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Why - Even as Champions - Clemson Looks Forward to a Fresh Start

The Clemson Tigers are champions, so what’s left?

CFP National Championship Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Back in December (2016), I wrote about why it would mean so much if Clemson emerged from the College Football Playoff as the National Champions. You can read the article in full here (do it!), but to summarize, the blog post highlighted a couple reasons why winning the title would be especially sweet:

  • Bitter makes the sweet sweeter and Clemson fans have tasted plenty of bitterness. Brutal collapses in the year’s prior to Clemson 2011 ACC Championship left the fan base with a deep-seeded expectation of disappointment.
  • Clemson invested in Coach Swinney and didn’t dump him for a quick fix in 2010 when that seemed so possible. By sticking with him, loyalty paid off.
  • Clemson’s victories over bigger, richer schools proves that a program can rise up through the ranks and knock off even the biggest and baddest of blue bloods. Clemson proved “greatness is for everyone.”
  • Coach Swinney built his program on principles he holds to tightly. This is shown through the players APR scores and the staff’s willingness to punish them when they do the wrong things, even if it jeopardizes winning (e.g., the Sammy Watkins and Deon Cain suspensions).
  • Lastly, Clemson football gives our community something to unify upon. Across other lines that are so divisive, Clemson football provides an force for camaraderie and friendship and an escape from the problems of the world.

We did it. We won the title and it really was as great as we dreamed about.

We proved you can win without selling your soul. Clemson proved the little guy can beat the blue blood and we became one in the process. Now what?

New Team, Same Dream

QB Deshaun Watson and DT Carlos Watkins were recently in Charlotte as their Houston Texans took on LB Ben Boulware’s Carolina Panthers in an NFL preseason game. They’re just some of the great players Clemson sent to the NFL. WRs Artavis Scott and Mike Williams, TE Jordan Leggett, C Jay Guillermo, CB Cordrea Tankersley, and S Jadar Johnson have also played their final games in Clemson. With so many great players departing, the doors are open for veterans, who have patiently waited their turn, to rise to the occasion and highly-touted freshmen to make their mark.

QB Kelly Bryant, RB CJ Fuller, RB Tavien Feaster, S Tanner Muse, TE Milan Richard, and LB Tre Lamar were on last year’s championship squad, but had limited roles. Now, they’ll be counted on for more. With that comes the opportunity to be fully canonized as legends in Clemson lore. Freshmen like WR Tee Higgins, WR Amari Rodgers, DE Jordan Williams, and DE Justin Foster join Clemson’s program in 2017 and could make an instant impact.

Getting to know these Tigers, seeing how they’ll contribute, and hoping they’ll become the next in a growing line of Tiger greats will be rewarding. The team’s motto “New team, same dream,” rings true.

Building Men of Character

With the introduction of Paw Journey, Clemson’s emphasis on looking “at the player as a man” first and an athlete who can yield on-filed success second will be furthered.

The Paw Journey is an official program led by Jeff Davis that focuses on players’ personal growth, life skills, and professional development. This is very “on-brand” for Coach Swinney’s program, and that’s something Tiger nation should be proud of. It’s important to remember that some - though not all - college football players come from challenging situations. This type of mentoring can play a critical role in shaping their life - beyond football. It’s exciting that this is what Clemson, under Swinney, is about.

When your program stands for something beyond winning, they’re easy to support. That’s not to say other football programs aren’t doing great things. They certainly are, but the news cycle is filled with stories about Ole Miss blatantly cheating in recruiting, Florida players stealing (using scholarship funds to buy and re-sell electronics from the bookstore), Alabama choosing not to suspend a star player for a DUI, and players committing domestic abuse (especially in the NFL). In that context, Clemson’s relentless focus on character is refreshing.

Be assured, while we may be blue-blooded now, we’re still the good guys.

A unifying force, a beautiful escape

I love discussing politics. I really do! I find it nuanced and fascinating, but it can be exhausting. Even more, it can be divisive. It can, at it’s worst, be an excuse for violence.

Clemson football manages to cut through all that and unite 81,500 in Death Valley and thousands more across the world under one flag (the orange national championship flag). It gets people who otherwise may never intersect to pull in the same direction. From San Francisco, CA to Greenwood, SC, Clemson fans spot one another and exchange a simple “Go Tigers!” Everything doesn’t have to be political, and Clemson football manages not to be.

While other sports leagues have gotten very political, Clemson football - even while visiting the White House - has remained apolitical. While Clemson has certainly stood for something beyond winning, it just isn’t something political. As such, Clemson football serves as an escape. It’s a way fans can get away from the negativity of the news cycle and instead worry about Kelly Bryant’s ability to read linebackers. That’s invaluable!

Here we go...

Last season, we had an epic comeback against Louisville to once again sneak by the Cardinals. We won in Atlanta and Tallahassee. We blew out the Gamecocks, beat the Hokies, and shutout the Buckeyes. Then the Tigers faced a 0-14 deficit against a team that Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight opined was the strongest in college football history. The Tigers didn’t back down. They wore out the vaunted Alabama defense and mounted back-to-back scoring drives to close the contest and win the title.

It was glorious!

Nevertheless, on of September 2nd, the slate is wiped clean. Last year’s championship earns Clemson nothing this year. Nothing! The quest for the trophy begins anew. So remember to enjoy the ride and appreciate every opportunity you have to escape the troubles of the world and come together with the Clemson family!