The last time the Clemson Football Program visited 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, in Washington, D.C., its entourage consisted of then head coach Danny Ford and his wife Deborah, Orange Bowl MVP Homer Jordan, wide receiver, Jerry Gaillard, athletic director Bill McLellan, school President Dr. William Atchley, Harry Durham the school’s publicist and Clemson graduate, turned U.S. Senator, Strom Thurmond.
That was it.
There was no fanfare. There was no special media event. There was no ESPN or Marty Smith. No one really even knew they were going to Washington. There were just eight people in a room in the White House, who were greeted and entertained by then late President Ronald Reagan. That was it. It was nothing special, though it was very special.
In 1981, Clemson stunned the college football world when it went undefeated and beat mighty Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to win the program its first national championship. Back then, no one really knew what Clemson was or where it came from. A lot of people thought it was located somewhere in North Carolina.
But none of that mattered. Clemson actually loved the fact no one really knew anything about it. The program and the university actually lived of it for years. Though they became one of college football’s giants in the 1980s, they always played the disrespect card.
However, when Clemson walked into the White House back in 1982, thanks to Thurmond who arranged the meeting with President Reagan, a rarity 35 years ago, it found out it was not “small potatoes” after all. Reagan, a college football fan, knew exactly who Clemson was.
He watched the Tigers’ win over Nebraska in the 1982 Orange Bowl and he had a lot of nice things to say about Clemson football, the university and the town as a whole. On that day, the one person that mattered knew exactly who Clemson was and what state it resides in.
Now flash forward 35 years later. Clemson once again is on top of the College Football World. Except this time, everyone knows who Clemson is. Of course beating Alabama in the national championship game will do that for you.
Today, when the Clemson buses leave the Allen Reeves Football Complex—thanks to NCAA rule changes from a long time ago—there will be more than 100 people headed to the airport for a one-day trip to the nation’s capital.
When they leave there will be plenty of fanfare as fans will send the team off in grand style like they always do. ESPN, like it does everything, will overkill the experience and will basically have Marty Smith stalking the Tigers all day.
There will be no private room for the Tigers to meet President Donald Trump, like Ford, Jordan and Gaillard did back in 1982. Instead, the entire team will meet the President on the South Lawn of the White House grounds in front of the media where President Trump, and more than likely Dabo Swinney, will exchange a few words.
And, like in 1982, it will be special. Whether it is in a room with just eight people in attendance or out on the lawn where hundreds of people will watch, going to the White House to meet the President of the United States and being honored by him and his staff for a championship so many worked hard to achieve, is an honor in any capacity and it should be treated as such.
In the end, it’s a very big deal.
–Photo courtesy of Clemson Athletic Communications