Tony Elliott went cliche when discussing the Clemson’s upcoming matchup with Florida State.
“It’s Clemson-Florida State,” the Tigers’ offensive coordinator said. “So records are out the window.”
And maybe throw out the pleasantries, too.
When Clemson and Florida State square off Saturday at Memorial Stadium, it will renew a rivalry that got testy in the public eye last year when the teams didn’t play for the first time since 1991. The reason was because of the coronavirus pandemic, though Clemson coach Dabo Swinney made it clear that he never bought that.
“This game was not canceled because of COVID,” Swinney opined after Florida State didn’t want to play the game out of an abundance of caution. “COVID was just an excuse to cancel the game.”
The game was originally postponed by the ACC just hours before it was set to kick off from FSU’s Doak Campbell Stadium on Nov. 21 after a player in Clemson’s traveling party tested positive the day before. The conference cited a disagreement between each team’s medical personnel in moving forward with playing the game at its original time as the reason for the postponement, something Swinney and Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich later confirmed.
The player who tested positive was immediately isolated and flew back to Clemson by himself. The Tigers offered to do another round of testing once they were in Tallahassee, Radakovich said, and even offered to play later on that Saturday, Sunday or Monday. But FSU didn’t budge.
“We did everything in our power to play and followed all agreed-upon ACC protocols in place to do so,” Radakovich said then.
In Swinney’s opinion, FSU, which was 2-6 at the time and riding a three-game losing streak, was trying to dodge a top-5 Clemson team that had beaten FSU five years in a row. Taking aim at FSU’s administration, Swinney expressed frustration in the fact that no game had previously been called off because of one positive test the day before and that all ACC teams had agreed before the season to expand their travel rosters from 72 to 80 players in case something like that happened.
“To be honest with you, I don’t think it has anything to do with their players,” Swinney said then. “I have no doubt their players wanted to play and would’ve played. And same with the coaches. To me, the Florida State administration forfeited the game.”
Adding to Swinney’s frustration was the fact Clemson spent roughly $300,000 to make the trip for nothing. The game was eventually canceled.
“If they want to play Clemson, in my opinion, they need to come to Clemson or they need to pay for all expenses,” Swinney said. “Other than that, there’s no reason for us to play them. We were there, we were ready, and we met the standards.”
In the days following the postponement, FSU coach Mike Norvell fired back at Swinney’s accusations in his defense of the Seminoles’ decision to play it safe.
“Football coaches are not doctors,” Norvell said. “Some of us might think that we are, but there’s a reason why those (medical) advisors are able to make the decisions from the information that is provided. We continue to do everything in our power to ensure the health and well-being of our players and helping them stay safe through this year and the process.”
Swinney delivered one final shot across the bow when asked about Norvell’s comments later that week.
“I’m not trying to be a doctor. I just listen to the doctors,” Swinney said. “Listen, I’m not really worried much about what they say down there in Tallahassee. That’s for sure. I’ve been in this league 18 years. I’ve been the head coach here 12. They’ve had three head coaches in four years. So the decisions they make, I’m not going to worry about advice from Tallahassee. I trust the people here, and I trust our doctors 100%.”
Safe to say Saturday’s meeting may feature a few more fireworks than usual.
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