It’s a warm August afternoon in 2009, Clemson’s playing their season opener versus Middle Tennessee and the Blue Raiders just kicked off.
Legendary Clemson back C.J. Spiller takes the kickoff on the far sideline at about the six, sprints ahead into traffic, plants his foot at the thirty, cuts right, and goes untouched to the endzone. It is the literal best possible way to start a season, and it provided a metaphor for how the year would go.
Clemson would win the game, but the beginning of 2009 was very much a Spiller-esque bolt into traffic for the Tigers.
Five days after beating Middle Tennessee, Clemson headed to Bobby Dodd to play Georgia Tech at the height of Clemson’s Atlanta curse. GT jumped out to a big lead (partially thanks to a play that’s now illegal) but Clemson somehow clawed their way back, even taking the lead in the 4th before losing 30-27.
Clemson would beat BC the next week, but a miserable 14-10 loss to TCU in a rainy Death Valley and a close loss to still-ACC Maryland stuck Clemson at 2-3, worse than the record which got Bowden fired a year before.
Three one-score losses by October 3rd really put a stink on the season for a lot of fans. It was hard to tune in every week thinking Clemson would find some way, any possible way to Clemson it. I don’t remember any (legitimate) calls for Dabo’s job, at least.
But just as you felt the season was done, having been killed by stumbling out of the gates, Clemson planted its foot and cut to the right. They crushed Wake Forest, and at 3-3 headed to Miami to face the #8 Hurricanes. A record-setting Spiller performance was exactly what Clemson needed to break into the open field of the schedule, beating Miami and four more ACC foes to take the Tigers to their first ever ACC title game in Dabo’s first full year.
Spiller’s kickoff return wasn’t the most memorable play of Clemson’s 2009, not even close, but Clemson wouldn’t be the same without it.
First impressions are one of the most underrated forces in College Football
It may seem simple, but I truly think people under-appreciate the power first impressions have: once public opinion is established, it’s near-impossible to move.
First impressions have won players the Heisman (*shakes fist at Mark Ingram*), first impressions have gotten coaches fired (Bo Pelini), or helped them keep their job (Gene Chizik).
They’re why the narrative surrounding LSU-Alabama remains centered around LSU’s offense. And not around Tua’s comeback despite injury – or the lack of defense on both sides.
They’re why Minnesota is still ranked behind four teams with a loss, and they’re why those four teams with a loss didn’t fall all that far when they took their Ls.
The reason Deshaun Watson stunned the college football world in Clemson-Bama One? First impressions. The college football public saw him as a little scrambling QB that was made of glass up until that night.
In a sport as broad as college football people don’t have time to dive deep on every single team, so we just keep the first impression a team leaves – a play, a quote, a game, a poll, anything – until we’re proven so wrong that we can’t even imagine having had that impression in the first place.
If beating team after team by 40 isn’t enough to quash the impression left by the UNC game, I can’t wait to see what Clemson unleashes on the Deacons and the Chickens.
Speaking of beating teams by 40, Clemson’s got a tiny little issue, and it’s real easy to spot.
Spot it yet? Maybe if I give you last year’s.
See it now? No?
Clemson’s way too good at hitting 28 points
The promo for hitting 28 points in a home game used to be a free taco with your ticket stub, sure it was from Taco Bell, but it was free! Now the deal is a sweet tea from Bojangles, which is fine, I don’t want to sound ungrateful to Bo, but sweet tea is like 70% of my body composition already.
The problem is Clemson is almost assured to hit the mark, from 2011 to now they’ve gone 50-12 versus the Bojangles challenge with 1 home game left in 2019. They would’ve beat the challenge in the first quarter had they played NC State at home last week.
Now, Mr. Jangle, don’t get rid of the deal, that’d be foolish. All I’m proposing is a bonus challenge: if they hit 56 it’s an extra free side, or if they block a field goal you get $3 off, or if Travis Etienne scores 3 TDs it’s a free cajun filet biscuit and a trip to the cardiologist – something extra to cheer for when it’s 52-3 vs FCS Southeast.