In our efforts to preview the National Championship, we've gone in depth to breakdown the recruited talent on each team. We've inspected advanced stats to compare the 2014 Clemson defense to the 2015 Alabama defense. We've spoken with Alabama bloggers, had our partner podcast release a mega-preview, and we still have offensive and defensive breakdowns and plenty more analysis to come before Monday.
While that's helped ease the anxiousness, my mind keeps asking the question, what would a win mean for Clemson? What would a national title mean for Clemson? For our community?
In wrestling with this question, I think back to the season opener in 2008 against Alabama in the GA Dome. Alabama pushed us around, and our hearts were broken. The season would end up being broken as well. Not too long after that game, Tommy Bowden was dismissed. Alabama had played in back-to-back Independence Bowls, but springboarded from that win to the Sugar Bowl and then won three of the next four national championships.
Even more than that opener, I think back to the game pictured below:
That was my last game as a student. It was the 2010 Meineke Car Care Bowl, a meaningless bowl against USF in Charlotte. I couldn't stand my last game as a student being a home loss to South Carolina, so we trekked up to Charlotte only to see them lose 26-31. As you can tell from the picture, we were about the only ones who decided to make that trip.
As we headed home, it felt much more like Clemson on the descent, than Clemson bottoming out. Nobody would have believed we would win the ACC the following season, and my original stance that we should have hired Tommy Tuberville was looking pretty smart. Maybe the only bright spot was that the "new QB (Boyd) who came in for Kyle Parker at least looked decent."
While these negative memories aren't the most fun, I find that "the bitter makes the sweet sweeter." As a fan base, we don't take this year's success for granted. Changing culture is a hard thing, but internally at Clemson, it appears Coach Swinney has made everyone believe they can be a winner. They're 60 minutes from being the biggest winner in the country.
More than the low points though, when trying to make sense of what this all means for Clemson, I think of Tiger Walk. Well, not so much Tiger Walk itself as the expression and meaning Coach Swinney hopes the players derive from it. That is, to illustrate to the players how much this community cares about them. To show them that people drive, two, four, six hours to get to Clemson--beautiful Clemson--just to watch some kids play football. People give thousand of dollars to pay for their scholarships and come from far and wide to give their support.
If you're like me, this dedication and emotional investment has in many ways become part of who you are. When you go into work on this Tuesday, people will immediately come over and congratulate or console you, preferably the former. People see the joy this team brings to our community and realize, just how special Clemson must be. Finally, after years of toil and more of steady ascent, we've reached the base camp nearest the mountain peak.
After all the heartbreaks and all the high-fives, nothing could be more appetizing than our community coming together on the biggest stage and our community winning.
See you in Arizona.
I've rambled and stammered on long enough as I search for meaning in something that clearly means too much to me and I try to self-examine and understand why. Why exactly that is. I put it to words the best I can, but I still feel that it falls short. Please let me know what you think in the comment section below!