Monday Morning Quarterback
Today is the last day Clemson can claim itself as the defending National Champions. Sometime close to midnight when the confetti starts falling down at the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, college football will have a new national champion.
So let’s send off the Clemson Tigers the right way, by recognizing what it accomplished last year in Tampa.
Three hundred and sixty four days ago, Hunter Renfrow and Deshaun Watson hooked up for a 2-yard touchdown pass with one second to go to beat mighty Alabama, 35-31, in one of the greatest national championship games in history.
Not only did it allow the Tigers to win their first national championship in 35 years, but it was a game that will forever be remembered. Clemson’s celebration following Renfrow’s catch lasted for the next week. It began on the field that night at Raymond James Stadium and it continued with a championship parade that following Saturday to Death Valley, where more than 70,000 people attended and cheered for their champions one more time.
It was a moment many of us, including this writer, never thought we would see. Did Clemson actually win the national championship in football? It still causes me to scratch my head when I think back to the run the Tigers made to get there.
I was nine years old sitting in my parents’ downstairs den off to the side of the kitchen in Moonville, S.C., as I watched Clemson win its first national championship in 1981 by beating Nebraska in the 1982 Orange Bowl Classic. I remember how the Upstate of South Carolina went nuts when the Tigers won. I remember how that night forever changed my life and led to what I have done the last 20-plus years as a sportswriter.
In 1982, when Andy Headen knocked down Nebraska’s Hail Mary attempted to win the game, sealing the Tigers’ national championship, I remember sitting right in front of the television not saying a word, just watching as my childhood heroes celebrated and then carried Danny Ford off the field. It was one of the few moments in my life I did not talk for an extended period of time.
Last year, I had a similar experience. I have been on the Clemson beat since 2004, meaning I have seen the good and the ugly of Clemson football. I have covered this team through the brawl vs. South Carolina, a couple of mediocre teams, a couple of teams that could not get over the hump and win the ACC Atlantic Division, five straight losses to the Gamecocks, to wins over Ohio State and Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl and a miraculous finish to knock off LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. I have seen and experienced a lot.
Then, I saw Hunter Renfrow catch Deshaun Watson’s game-winning touchdown pass to beat Alabama in last year’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game, and once again, I sat there quiet. Sitting next to my friend and long-time Clemson Athletic Communications Assistant Director Phil Sikes in the press box, we did not say a word when it happened. Phil and I just watched in shock as the Tigers celebrated.
Then, maybe after 10 seconds or so went by, I looked over at Phil and said, maybe I should start writing this story.
Since then, as you all know, I have written hundreds of stories about the 2016 National Champions on TCI, in our magazine Mission Accomplished and in mine and Sam Blackman’s book, Clemson: Where The Tigers Play. It has been a fun year reliving that moment and that season over and over again.
It was a fun year, one that brought me back to being that little nine-year old boy sitting on the floor with his mouth wide open in shock that his favorite team was the best in college football.
So here is to the 2016 Clemson Tigers: Thanks for the memories and for reminding us all in the Upstate of South Carolina, and for the Clemson fans everywhere, what it was like to watch a champion, again. It was a fun year for us all, and one we will not forget.