After claiming Clemson's 15th ACC Title and 2nd ACC Championship Game victory in Charlotte, the Tigers moved their record to a perfect 13-0. In those 13 wins are three over teams still ranked in the top 10 as we head into bowl season (#8 Notre Dame, #9 Florida State, #10 UNC). The Tigers are the undisputed #1 team in the College Football Playoff Rankings, an honor they've held since the committee's first poll was released after week 9. Two incredibly challenging games still await, as the road to a national championship is longer than ever, but Clemson won't let that stop them from enjoying the ride.
Just a day after North Carolina fans didn't bother to show up for the biggest football game their school had played in nearly two decades, over 30,000 Clemson fans entered Death Valley for a free slice of pizza and a moment together to let it all sink in. 128 universities have invested in a FBS football program, and in 2015, no program is doing a better job than the Clemson Tigers.
As the coaches and players walked onto the field, the 30,000+ in attendance cheered in excitement and gratitude. Jeff Scott, an alumnus and offensive co-coordinator, held his newborn baby with his wife by his side. He stepped away from the players to let his wife commemorate the moment with a photo of him holding his new child in front of the "extended family."
Dabo Swinney addressed the crowd thanking them for their season-long support and highlighting how different the scene must be at Alabama, Oklahoma, and Michigan State. As ESPN's College Football Playoff Selection Show played on Death Valley's jumbotron, the contrast could not be more clear. #2 Alabama was not watching the announcement as a team nor were fans gathered. Rather it was "business as usual" as the commentator said over and over. While, I can understand the adage "act like you've been there before" it looked much more like an NFL team and fan base than a group of kids working together with the support of the community to accomplish something special.
It was just another moment in which I was reminded that the Clemson family is real. It's people coming together to thank players for the memories. It's senior LG Eric Mac Lain taking the microphone and telling the fans how much they appreciate the support, how much they impact the game, and how much they are appreciated. It's the realization that as we see coaches' salaries on the rise, coaching hot seats ablaze, more and more players leaving early for the draft, debates sparked about player pay, and problems with concussion-related brain injuries come to the surface we stand for something more.
Dabo Swinney quoted Galatians 6:9 when he said "Do not grow weary from doing what is right and good, for at the appropriate time, you will reap a harvest of blessing if you do not give up." It was certainly easy to grow weary through seasons like 2008 when Clemson lost to Wake Forest or 2010 when they lost to South Carolina and South Florida. It reminds me of another quote, "the bitter makes the sweet sweeter."
This week, the Clemson community deserves the ultimate kudos. Many schools have great football teams and fan bases that support their team, pack the stadium, and holler for their defense, but "this football team, all of you, Clemson... Uncommon. It's great to be a part of it."