Swinney, Narduzzi preview Saturday's ACC Championship Game
CHARLOTTE — When Dabo Swinney was walking off the field in Tampa, Fla., following Clemson’s heartbreaking loss to Georgia Tech in the 2009 ACC Championship Game, he wondered to himself, “This was not supposed to happen.”
In Swinney’s mind, the Tigers were supposed to win. At the time, Clemson had not won an Atlantic Coast Conference Championship in almost two decades and had not been to the Orange Bowl in almost three decades.
Instead Swinney and the Tigers walked off the field with Georgia Tech fans throwing Oranges onto the field.
“I always tell myself that God never says ‘Oops!’ I was like, ‘I don’t like that, but that is kind of what I live by.’ We are supposed to be going to the Orange Bowl,” Swinney said. “It had been 30 years since we had been to Orange Bowl and we had not won the ACC Championship in 20 years, so it was a very disappointing moment.”
Swinney always tells his players not to let any moment define who they are or what they have accomplished. So, he had to heed his own advice.
Six years later, he understood why he wasn’t supposed to win on that December night in Tampa. A little more than six years after walking off that field disappointed, Swinney was celebrating this time and he was celebrating something more than an ACC Championship. He was celebrating a national championship.
“It is ironic that we were back in Tampa and won that national championship,” he said. “The biggest thing is, don’t let one moment define you. Just keep working to get better, keep growing and learning lessons. That is what we did.”
While the Tigers will try to keep growing in what has become one of the more elite programs in college football, they will play a program and team that was much like Swinney’s first team nine years ago.
Second-ranked Clemson will play Pittsburgh in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game here at Bank of America Stadium. It will be the Panthers’ first appearance in the title game.
“Pat (Narduzzi) is probably the same way. He is probably thrilled to be in the game because his team has earned that,” Swinney said. “When you start the season, everybody is kind of running the race, but only one is going to win. Man, they came out on top and that is all that matters.
“I know they are super excited to have this experience for the first time. They are going to do everything they can to win the game and they are certainly capable of beating us. There is no question about it.”
Pitt (7-5) knows it can beat the Tigers, it did it two years ago. The Panthers went into Death Valley and downed Clemson, 43-42, on a last second field goal.
Swinney says in championship football anything can happen, and the Tigers have the experience, and the fact they are a heavy favorite has nothing to do with any of it.
“Nothing matters. You don’t carry over the touchdowns. You don’t carry over the sacks. You don’t carry over the mistakes, either,” he said. “It is all about this game and in championship football anything can happen, regardless of what has happened. If we win the game, man, what a great opportunity for him to build his program.”
And who knows, maybe in six years Narduzzi will be walking off the field here at Bank of America Stadium celebrating an historic win for his program.