There are a lot of you like me out there that grew up watching Clemson football in the 1980s.
As I have told you in many columns before, I was nine years old when Clemson won the 1981 National Championship and I remember pretty much every moment from that season. That football season is what I contribute to my obsession with sports and why I ultimately became a sportswriter.
Growing up a Clemson fan in the 1980s was a great time. In case you forgot, the Tigers were 87-25-4 in that decade. Of course, they won a national championship, five ACC Championships, five bowl games and beat national powers such as Georgia, Nebraska, Penn State, Oklahoma and Florida State.
Clemson was one of the more feared programs in the country and it was great to experience it as a fan.
Soon after I went off to college, the Tigers’ dominance slowly came to an end. By the mid-1990s, Clemson was just an afterthought on the national scene. It was also an afterthought in the ACC as Florida State came into the league and took things over.
It was 20 years, as we all know, before Clemson became relevant again in college football. By this time, my career as a sportswriter had begun and I soon found myself covering my childhood team. I’ll be honest, I was thrilled, but at the same time I was a little down, too.
I knew as a responsible journalist, who wants his readers to know he is looking out for their best interest, I had to cut my ties as a fan and look at the Clemson program objectively. Those earlier years were tough because Clemson was not always good. It was more of an average program at best.
Any sportswriter will tell you, we much rather cover a team that wins than a team that is average at best or loses. You get much better stories and find more interesting people because, let’s face it, people want to talk more win they win. But, I did my best in those mediocre years to produce the stories my readers wanted to read about.
Obviously, the 2008 and 2010 seasons were the toughest to cover. In 2008, Tommy Bowden stepped down as head coach and Dabo Swinney arose from interim status to head coaching status, but by 2010 we were at that same doorstep we were at two years earlier. Clemson fans were calling for Swinney’s job after the Tigers lost five games by six points or less.
It did not help that the Tigers got humbled by rival South Carolina, 29-7, for a second straight year in the regular season finale, either.
However, I remember Swinney’s words in a press conference that year when he said the program was really close to getting over the hump and being an elite one. He believed Clemson could be great again. Many in the room, including yours truly, did not really believe it. We had heard this before so what was different? So we thought.
Well, Swinney proved us wrong. On that day, I had no idea Clemson was on the brink off having its greatest decade in the program’s history.
In the 2010s, Clemson has done as much or more than anything Danny Ford’s teams accomplished in the 1980s. With a win over Pitt on Saturday, Clemson will clinch its sixth straight 10-win season. To put that into perspective, Clemson will join an elite class that has only seen 10 other programs accomplish that in the history of college football.
To also put that in perspective, Clemson had just six 10-win teams in its entire history prior to 2011.
With its 9-0 start this season, Clemson now has a 71-19 record in the decade of the 2010s. That computes to a .789 winning percentage, the best for any decade in Clemson history.
This decade has moved ahead of the 1980s in terms of winning percentage. In the 1980s, Clemson had a .767 winning percentage, the fifth best winning percentage in college football. Since 2011, Clemson has won 65 games, second only to Alabama in the country.
In this decade, so far, Clemson has played for a national championship, won two ACC Championships, won four bowl games, finished in the top 10 three times, and has beaten powerhouses such as Auburn, LSU, Georgia, Ohio State, Florida State and Oklahoma.
So I have had the pleasure of watching my favorite team win a lot when a lot when I was a kid, and now as an adult I get to watch the program I cover win a lot as well. Never in a million years did I think I would get to be a part of something so special as a fan, and then years later experience it again, in a different way, as a sportswriter. And I never imagined they both would be exclusive to Clemson.