The Clemson Tigers proved greatness can be for anyone when they took down the biggest, baddest dynasty college football has seen in decades. Nick Saban was 5-0 in National Championship games, but Coach Swinney’s Tigers believed, and with some final minute heroics, prevailed.
Following the monumental victory, many of the players on the field and fans in the stands shed a tear of joy. For Clemson, it’s like the infamous SEC football commercial says, “it just means more.” Obviously, coming so close last year - only to fall short against Saban’s Crimson Tide - made this victory a bit more special. The 35 year gap since the ‘81 National Title also added to the magic. There’s more, though.
We felt it that night in Tampa, but Coach Swinney - as he does so well - turned that emotion into words after a glorious celebratory parade that concluding with over 60,000 filing into Clemson Memorial Stadium for trophy presentations and speeches. Once everyone was settled in the stadium, Don Munson began introducing speakers. First were sponsors and athletic officials, and then came the players.
Deshaun Watson led off with a brief, but appreciative thank you. Others followed and as they spoke, their love and appreciation for their coaches was apparent. LB Ben Boulware got emotional as he told the fans that “I’m one of you.” Growing up in Anderson, SC he dreamed about bringing the trophy to Clemson. Working together with his “brothers” to do it, will forever be a part of who he is. DT Carlos Watkins followed and had to pause to regain his composure while thanking his position coach Dan Brooks (who is retiring).
S Jadar Johnson opened up about times he didn’t think he was good enough to play at Clemson and how the coaching staff encouraged him and molded him into the man he is now. The players love for each other and their coaches was apparent.
The football team is a microcosm of the community in Clemson, SC. Many of us, as we left Clemson for the last time as a student, cried. We knew what the community had given us and we were grateful for the mentors we found there.
Then Coach Swinney spoke. First he thanked those players from past teams who helped bring the program to this point. He called out CJ Spiller specifically due to the love for Clemson he showed when he came back for his senior year and led Clemson to their first Atlantic Division title and was the MVP of both the ACC Championship Game (even in a loss to GT) and the Music City Bowl. “That’s leadership. That’s what ‘all in’ looks like,” Swinney said.
Coach Swinney continued:
“I told our team [before the playoff] that Ohio State and Alabama have bigger budgets, bigger stadiums, more five-stars, but it didn’t matter because of their love for each other and for Clemson University. When you have something you love, each of you will do a little extra.”
The Tigers have a ton of talent on their roster, make no mistake, but they didn’t play for a championship or beat an Alabama team with twice the projected first round draft due only to talent. It was the love for each other, their mentors, and their university that pushed them to accomplish a bit more.
“...it’s how we won that matters most to me. One of these days we will hold that trophy up and we can be transparent and be proud. These trophies are never going to define us. The culture of this program will define us. How we mold men, how we teach them to love and care for one another. That’s what our culture is going to be defined by. It’s how we win that will sustain us. It’s a daily commitment and we will continue to do that.”
We aren’t little ol’ Clemson anymore. We may not be the lovable underdog next time. We may not be constantly overlooked anymore or have a great redemption story, but Clemson outright rejects the notion of “win at all costs.” As long as Coach Swinney is at the helm and the culture they’ve built remains intact, then the Tiger faithful can take heart that Clemson winning means something more than another W on the wikipedia page.
It means you can do things the right way and still win at the highest level, and it means that love for each other, love for community, and the will to believe in yourself can push you to overcome the obstacles that may lie ahead.
There may be better, faster, or stronger championship teams, but you will never find a team with more passion, integrity, loyalty, and love. pic.twitter.com/dbpE8FT5BH— Chris Egan (@cwegan) January 14, 2017
“It’s a blessing to let the world know what Clemson’s all about. It’s a special place.” - Deshaun Watson