By William Qualkinbush.
As college sports has become more clearly a minor league (of sorts) for the professional ranks, one thing has become increasingly clear of fans of the collegiate game.
These fans are driven by hope.
In fact, the entire game seems to be driven by hope, or the absence thereof. Fans cling to hope of the next victory, the next long-term goal, the next touchdown, the next championship—you get the idea.
Because the game has become so emotionally dependent on hope, it has become a game fixated more on the future than the present. It’s not enough to be good right now. A team must be good enough right now to make fans feel good about the next game, the game after that, and the rest of the season.
Nowhere has this been more evident than at Clemson this season. Every bit of success has seemingly been viewed through tomorrow’s lens, as if wins don’t count unless they would have been good enough every single week.
It’s not enough to feel good about a win right now. All that matters is the next challenge. In fact, there have been plenty of times this season when hypothetical results of future games have been discussed at Memorial Stadium as current games hang in the balance.
The symbol of hope for Clemson fans is named Deshaun. Even as the freshman phenom showed flashes of brilliance, the focus wasn’t there. As he carved up a pair of conference opponents with relative ease as the starter, many fans barely noticed. When he returned—albeit briefly—with splendor in Atlanta, the attentions of fasn were elsewhere.
All along, the focal point has been this date: November 29. It’s about South Carolina.
What good is it, fans might conjecture, to beat UNC if we can’t beat the Gamecocks? How important is a win in Atlanta anyway? Can’t we explain away a loss in Tallahassee as long as we beat our rival?
All are valid questions, and all can be answered by the wonderboy Watson. Both times he was injured and proclaimed out for an extended period of time, the conversation centered on his prospective availability for South Carolina.
Fans didn’t care what he did against Georgia State last week. It was all about South Carolina.
Clemson fans have spent five years waiting for the future to arrive in this rivalry. Now, it’s finally here.
Watson is prepared to start. The Gamecocks have suffered through the pains of underachievement this season. This is the future Clemson fans have been waiting on all year.
But just when the present future looked bright, the letters “SMU” appeared on the radar screen. Suddenly, a new future emerged—one where Clemson has a new offensive face, perhaps a new identity.
This future has assumed control of the discussion, perhaps to the exclusion of the old future involving Deshaun and the Gamecocks. Two futures will collide in Death Valley today, one a present future and the other a future one.
Confused yet? Try sorting through this as a commentator. It’s a nightmare.
Perhaps it was only a matter of time before a new future emerged anyway. After all, once the future becomes the present, there is no margin for error. That’s the moment where the process of the past is defined for good. The tussle with South Carolina will serve that purpose for the Clemson Tigers.
Maybe that’s why we prefer the future. As the old adage goes, tomorrow never comes. That’s the essence of hope.
At the conclusion of this game, a new future will emerge for both sides, but let’s make a pact now to relish the present before it disappears in an instant. After all, we have all of history to hope.