When Clemson won its first ACC Championship in 20 years back in 2011, the football team was greeted by about 3,000 fans when they returned from Charlotte in the wee hours of the morning.
When the Tigers’ returned from Orlando, Florida this past Sunday morning with their second straight ACC Championship in hand, they were once again greeted by loyal Clemson fans. However, this time it wasn’t 3,000 people, it was three.
“We got in, I’m thinking about five something, 5:30 or so … it was raining so there was like only three people there,” head coach Dabo Swinney said with a smile. “There were three troopers out there, standing in the freezing rain.”
Though the weather may have worn down the fanfare this time, it did not remove the shine from winning back-to-back ACC Championships for the first time in 28 years. Later that day, Swinney and his team was back at Clemson as the school honored them at halftime of the basketball game at Littlejohn Coliseum.
Prior to that, the Tigers learned they earned their way back into the College Football Playoff for a second straight year.
“It’s been great. We literally slept just a couple of hours and then we came back over with the team and watched the selection show. That was fun. To be able to celebrate that moment with the team,” Swinney said. “To see the Clemson logo come up, I know how hard it is to do that and the daily grind it takes to get to this point to have a chance.
“I’m so thankful to our players for them buying in, for their belief and their work. It is a special time to be a part of Tiger Nation.”
Clemson (12-1) will play Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Eve. On Monday, quarterback Deshaun Watson learned he was one of five finalists for the Heisman Trophy which will be presented on Saturday in New York.
It marks the second year in a row Watson was invited to New York as a finalist.
Swinney says he is looking forward to going back to Glendale, Ariz., too, the site of the Fiesta Bowl. The Tigers lost there to Alabama last year in the National Championship Game.
“I don’t really remember it last time, it was such a blur. It was such a business trip,” Swinney said. “It was like a little longer road trip for us. We got out there, we had a little banquet, press thing the next day, one practice and then it was boom, you’re locked in and it’s the game. It was just a focused situation so I don’t remember a whole lot about it other than we stayed at a great hotel, the venue was incredible and it was a beautiful stadium.
“So, I look forward to going out and getting ingrained into the community a little more and check out the area.”
Swinney actually played in the 1991 Fiesta Bowl when he was at Alabama.
“I spent a week out there and had a chance to roam around Phoenix and some of that stuff as a young buck,” he said. “In my much, much more wiser days, I look forward to seeing Arizona through different lens this time around.
“We will make sure we enjoy the trip. This is the bowl experience of the postseason. There will be a lot of things to do and the guys will get a chance to go see what Arizona is all about. I have some guys that play for the Cardinals so it will be good to see them. It will be fun. It will be a lot of fun … We’re looking forward to it.”