When he woke up Saturday morning following Clemson’s loss at Syracuse on Friday night, Dabo Swinney wasn’t really in the mood to travel to Tuscaloosa for the 25-year reunion of Alabama’s 1992 national championship team.
However, Clemson’s head coach made the trip to his alma mater anyway, and at the end of the day, he was really glad he did.
“The last thing I wanted to do was get on a plane Saturday morning and go anywhere, but I’m glad I did,” Swinney said during his teleconference on Monday. “It was a very special day.”
One of the reasons the day was so special for the former Alabama walk-on — and one of the main reasons Swinney wanted to attend the celebration — is that it gave him a chance to reunite with his former coach at Alabama, Gene Stallings, who recently suffered a heart attack at the age of 82.
“We had a game on Friday night. I mean for me to have had a Saturday is a rare thing, and it’s probably the last time we’ll be together as a group with Coach,” Swinney said of Stallings. “Coach just had a heart attack last week. When he said he was going, I really didn’t have any excuse, and so we loaded up and we went up there.
“Just being able to be with Coach and have that special time… Of course he was fussing at me. He was still being Coach. He said he didn’t sleep all night. Said he got up at 3 o’clock eating grapes, still mad about the game. He was walking with a cane, and it was tough to see him like that, but there he was. It meant that much to him to get there.”
After walking on at Alabama as a wide receiver and earning a scholarship, Swinney graduated in 1993 and became a graduate assistant at Alabama for three years before being promoted to a full-time assistant coach with the program in 1996 under Stallings. He served as an assistant with the Crimson Tide until 2000.
Swinney, Stallings and most of the other members of the 1992 national title team spent about an hour and a half together in the lettermen room before being recognized prior to Alabama’s game against Arkansas on Saturday evening.
“It was really a special time,” Swinney said. “I saw guys I hadn’t seen since 1992. We’ve had a couple of reunions, but not even close to the turnout… Just about everybody was there, and it was a special time, and everybody was so complimentary of Clemson and what we’ve been able to do here. … So I’m just really thankful that I was able to go and be a part of that.”
During the ceremony honoring the team, Swinney received a standing ovation from the Alabama crowd when his name was called out over the loudspeaker, in spite of the fact his Tigers beat their Crimson Tide in the national title game last January.
“I had a lot of (the fans) wanting to take pictures. I told them none of them were wanting to take a picture back in January. That just goes to show you, I guess a little water under the bridge, a little forgiveness in people’s hearts,” Swinney joked. “But they were great. The Alabama folks were very welcoming, and I was appreciative of that.”
With his own team to focus on, Swinney left shortly after the ceremony and was home before the Alabama-Arkansas game reached the second quarter.
Though it was a short visit, Swinney said the time he spent at his alma mater was “just what the doctor ordered” after a tough loss the night before.
“I’m thankful that I was able to go. Great perspective for me,” Swinney said. “At the end of the day, you win some games, you lose some games, but the relationships that you make and the lives that you get a chance to influence as a coach, and the people who influenced my life and the teammates that I’ve had… That’s really what it’s all about. When it’s all said and done, that’s what you’re going to remember more than anything. So I’m very thankful I was able to go.”
—Photo Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports