By Ed McGranahan
It’s tough enough to say goodbye, so let’s put it off awhile.
After all, there’s one more game on the schedule and another, if the fates are willing, possibly near water.
Tajh Boyd doesn’t run down The Hill because the wheels are feeling the effects of the third season at quarterback. Saturday may resemble a leisurely stroll down memory lane and into the embrace of 80,000 in Death Valley.
As Hawk Harrelson says, “He gone.”
As the centerpiece of Dabo Swinney’s first recruiting class which he dubbed the “Dandy Dozen,” Tajh Boyd more than fulfilled his end of the contract. After sitting out the first year to recover from surgery to a torn knee ligament and watching Kyle Parker the second, he started the next 37 games, set 52 school offense and passing records and led Clemson back to that circle of elite programs where it held membership during the Ford generation.
Until the fax spit out the paperwork that morning Swinney was not sure Boyd – or any of them – would buy into what he was selling as Clemson’s new coach. “Here’s the plan, here’s the vision. You’re going to have to take a leap of faith if you come here.”
During that redshirt season, Boyd admitted, there were moments of second-guessing, of contemplating whether it was worth cutting his losses. Talk of transferring was not uncommon among him and others in that class. “It’s just a freshman thought that you get,” he said. “It’s more challenging than people think it is, to be playing football all of your life and then redshirt, not play at all. Even though you are part of the team, part of the program, the scout team, you don’t feel like your role is that significant.”
Seven of the original dozen are here today for the final run down The Hill. Their significance cannot be overstated this season at 9-1, ranked No. 7 in the country by the BCS. They “transformed Clemson, changed the culture at Clemson,” Swinney said.
“They set the standard and made it realistic to achieve that standard,” he said. “This group came here at a time when there was total change and no guarantees and took a leap of faith in me as a head coach and in Clemson. Man, what a journey it’s been.”
The quarterback made the ride easier
“I never doubted that he’d be a great player,” Swinney said. “As far as his total development as a man, he’s far exceeded what you could ever expect of a young person.
“What he’s done on a football field is incredible.”
While he’d prefer to play deep into the final home game Boyd wants to be realistic because of what lies ahead. Practice has been as needed. Last week he sustained a left shoulder bruise which with ankle and knee maladies makes practice a chore. He seems embarrassed by the fuss, but his selflessness was one of the chief reasons Swinney wanted him.
“I thought it was a little more dramatic than it needed to be,” Boyd said of the moments after he bruised the shoulder against Georgia Tech, though admittedly the worst occurred to him. “The thoughts flashed through my mind, ‘this can’t be the last game I play here.’
“It was important for me to come back out there and show them I was fine.”
“A lot of times you don’t appreciate what you’ve got until it’s gone,” Swinney said. “You get kind of used to it. He makes it look easy.
“What he does and the throws that he makes, it’s not easy. And the consistency that he’s played with, it’s not easy,” he said, “I have a
great appreciation for Tajh Boyd and what he’s done for our program. But he ain’t done yet.”
Most of the numbers are his for passing, total offense, and touchdowns. The 38th straight start Saturday will be a record and there’s Rodney Williams’ mark for victories. At 97 touchdown passes he owns the ACC record and with one more would double the output of any previous Clemson quarterback. All that remains are the postseason honors and Boyd is on the short lists for the Maxwell, O’Brien, Unitas and Walter Camp awards.
When he’s standing at midfield after its all done Saturday, signing autographs, posing for pictures and making memories for someone else, the reality may hit him, looking around at the sea of kids and fans hoping for one last view of that smile, wishing for a chance to touch him. More than any of the numbers, that became more important to him, “by far.”
Strong men frequently choke on farewells. Many rely on the words of others. So with Raymond Chandler’s help let’s imagine for a moment that it’s twilight Saturday in Death Valley and the sun has begun its descent to the lake.
“It was a cool day and very clear. You could see a long way – but not as far as they would go.”