Top of the Hill is a 284 page chronicling of Christopher William Swinney has how he pulled Clemson up the hill and planted a flag on the top. Written by the Greenville New’s Manie Robinson, it’s creatively written sprinkled with metaphors ranging from Super Mario to Louisiana gumbo.
My favorite portion comes early in the writing when Robinson delves into Coach Swinney’s upbringing. While most Clemson fans are aware of Dabo’s challenging childhood family situation, the author provides interesting new detail - in particular about the role his future wife, Kathleen, played during this time. I really enjoyed this non-football story that included new anecdotes about Kathleen I hadn’t heard before.
He also spent pages telling Tony Elliott’s story - another tough childhood situation about overcoming the odds. He concludes that story by telling one about the way in which Coach Swinney chose to bring him on staff. It’s thoughtful, touching, and a real feel-good conclusion.
Other chapters recount more well-known stories though, like CJ Spiller’s recruitment (and decision not to transfer to UF), Swinney’s feuds with Spurrier, and Watson’s Habitat for Humanity. For those who hadn’t heard them, this is great content, but some of this was re-hashed from stories I had recently heard on Larry William’s Clemson Dubcast, so it was a bit spoiled for me.
Although extremely well-written, the part of the book I found least interesting was the game recaps of more than a handful big contests. I recognize many people really enjoy reading game recaps, hence their popularity online, but I generally skip over them to read key take-aways or move into analysis of the next game. If I re-watch a game, it’s seldom the full-length game. For folks who revel in these recaps, this book with be a home run all the way though. Robinson’s story telling is top notch - laced with beautiful metaphors and framed by interesting anecdotes gathered through meticulous research. For folks that feel their memory serves well enough and seek new stories, this portion of the book will feel stale.
The book is long. It spends time in somewhat odd spots such as recounting a harrowing story about Nuk Hopkin’s mother, explaining how folks in Pelham are torn between cheering for their Crimson Tide or their native son Dabo Swinney, and a detailed retelling of the 2014 Russell Athletic Bowl. It’s also comprehensive and brings forth stories that even the most obsessed Clemson fan hasn’t yet heard. He does a great job re-telling stories you’ve heard too. One of my favorites, was his recounting of when Watson led Clemson on a torn ACL to snap the Cocks Palmetto Bowl win steak - absolutely the stuff of legends!
These stories reaffirmed by belief that Dabo’s whole joyful Christian, grateful through adversity, enjoying the journey “thing” is 100% genuine. It also reassured me that Brent Venables isn’t going anywhere soon (though Kansas State’s hiring of NDSU’s Head Coach may have already done that). If you have time to kill while traveling to Texas and/or California for postseason football, this is a good book to get you in the right frame of mind for high-stakes football games. It’s well-written, well-researched, and the stories are great. Just be prepared for a little length, as he spared no detail. If interested, you can purchase a copy here or on Amazon.