By Lee Lance.
Day two of our trip with the Clemson football team to Auburn went much like the first one. It was obvious that this team was all business, from breakfast to game time. After a 9:00 a.m. wake up call, we all met in the dining room for breakfast. The mood in the room made it clear that it was indeed game day.
First off came word for everyone to remove their hats, headphones, and ringers, then came a few notes read to everyone. After that, a blessing was asked and then it was time to eat. “Seniors”, came the first call. After the seniors, then it was the juniors turn through the buffet, and then of course came the sophomores, finally followed by the freshmen.
It wasn’t until each player had been through the lines that Robert and I had our turn, along with the coaches. We realized at dinner the night before though that there wasn’t any danger of running out of food.
Another obvious realization is that the point of these meals isn’t just to eat to be eating, but that they were loaded with the things one might need before needing the kind of energy that as going to be required of the players in just a few hours. Protein and carbohydrates.
The morning meal consisted of a buffet of good, old fashioned breakfast choices. First up were scrambled eggs, then omelets, then bacon, hash browns, grits, gravy, sausage, and pancakes with syrup. On another table was every cereal a kid could want along with oranges, apples, bananas and various other fruits.
Each table had orange juice, water and all the fixings for the meal, including, to my liking, ketchup for those crispy, perfectly cooked hash browns.
Coach Swinney told us about how he ate grits and canned biscuits for years, everyday, for breakfast. He said, “every morning that is what my mother would have on the center of the kitchen table, a big bowl of grits and canned biscuits”. Then, smiling, he said “man I love me some grits”.
During the meal, it was neat to sit and listen to the coaches talk about, well, coaching. They talked about different things they had been thinking about, and things they had been up late the night before or early that morning working on. Several coaches came over during the meal to talk to Coach Swinney about ideas for the night’s game.
One coach in particular said “Coach I’ve been up in my room all morning looking at film”, and then of course went on to tell Dabo what he had seen in film in regards to patterns he had picked up on, etc.
It was really neat to listen to that stuff going on, and even neater just to hear some of the stories and the general conversations going on at the table.
After breakfast, everyone split up and headed to meetings. The meetings were, for the most part, broken up by position, with some including entire sides of the ball. For instance, offense or defense.
When the meetings were done, it was time for relaxations and “naps” as the itinerary said.
The next group time came at 2:30, when team Chaplain Tony Eubanks held chapel. After that it was time for, you guessed it, more food. With a night game the players have to eat before the game, but obviously not to near kickoff. Today’s “dinner” time would be 3:00.
Once again, we all filled into the dining room, and once again it was time to bless the food. This time, things seemed even more business like than the first two times we had all eaten together. Everyone was in the zone, and that was apparent. There were lots and lots of play books being studied, and very little talking at all.
This pre-game meal was as good as all the others were, for sure. This time it was grilled chicken, baked potatoes, broccoli and rice casserole, green beans, macaroni and cheese, and spaghetti and meat sauce. Another table, just as in other meals, had fruit and desert on it.
This meal was a little different in that there was little to no talking going on at all. Even among the coaches, it was pure focus like I have never witnessed in anything else. I think you could have literally heard a pin drop in that room. It wasn’t a bad thing, it was purely a feeling of focus and a quiet energy. It made me think of what it might be like in the locker room of a heavy weight boxer that is about to go in for a twelve round championship bout.
This meal brought us all the way up within 45 minutes of go time, the time the buses headed out of Columbus and on the 50 minute ride to Auburn University. The team had a brief walk thru at the hotel, and then we loaded up.
The ride over was pretty cool too. Not only was there a feeling of excitement all around, but there is something pretty neat about being in a bus that is one of five buses being led by State Troopers from three states that cleared the way. There was not one time those buses had to stop, not once. It has to be a cool feeling to be on that bus as a player, knowing that you are just a few hours from game time at this point.
I think that is the point where it gets real. Once you are seated on that bus and those sirens are going off all around as the troopers are racing around the buses and hurrying to the next intersection to clear the way for you. It was pretty cool.
But even cooler than that was when the buses rolled up on campus. It was pretty awesome to see the streets lined with tailgaters and party goers. We were greeted by hundreds of Clemson fans lining the streets too, and even heard several groups busting out the cadence count as we rolled by. Of course, we also heard the occasional boos from the opposition’s fans, but that was cool too, honestly.
Once we had pulled in and the buses were parked, it was time for Robert and I to separate from the team and head to our posts, Robert’s on the sidelines and mine in the press box.
I don’t need to go into the details of the game, obviously, but I will say that I think everyone in the media, national folks included, were very impressed with the Tigers. Some of them even seemed to get so excited at a few Clemson plays that one could have confused them as Tiger fans. The one play that got the most oohs and aahs was Harper’s diving catch in the end zone.
Fast forward to the post game events now. The team was obviously and understandably upset. After the guys all had their showers and had dressed back into their suits, it was time for post game interviews. Everyone on the team that was asked to do interviews handled them well, as evidenced by the videos on the site, including the popular guy of the evening, Chandler Cantanzaro.
At about midnight central time, and after all the media questions were answered, it was time to head back to Clemson. Everyone grabbed a Jersey Mike’s boxed meal, or some Papa John’s pizza and headed to their bus. The bus ride was a long one for sure, but not near as tough as one would think.
There were lots of pillows, lots of sleeping, and lots of coaches already going back to work. Coaches had their laptops out, already loaded with film from the game that had just ended an hour before, and they were already watching it back. Switching from play to play, rewinding and fast forwarding, slow motioning and pausing.
Sportscenter played on the satellite tv’s and we saw highlights of the Clemson game over and over. Not so sure that is what everyone wanted to see at that time, but it was on. The journey from the football stadium all the way back to I-85 was once again led by State Troopers, and that was definitely a big plus. We passed all of the log jammed post game traffic, and were cruising the interstate in no time.
About five hours later, we rolled up at the West Zone and the trip ended. From there it was back to reality for everyone. The mood could best be described as somber, or perhaps just mostly sleepy. Not much was said outside of the usual departing words, the goodbyes and see you next time.
All in all, as Robert and I talked about on the journey out of Clemson, it was a hell of a trip. It was an experience that not many folks get to take part in, and I feel lucky to have been able to do it. Now all I have to do it talk Dabo into offering the same type of deal at next year’s All In Ball, and then I have to be right there again telling Robert “come on man, it’s not that much more, bid again”.