TAMPA, Fla.—Clemson waited 35 years to celebrate a national title, so what was one more clock tick at the end of a game that wasn't put to bed until half past midnight?
This wasn’t like 2002, when Miami rushed the field in Tempe thinking (knowing) it had defeated Ohio State, only be told by a ref located in another county it was being called for a pass interference penalty that would prematurely blow $50,000 of fireworks into the Arizona sky.
This wasn’t like that because Miami ended up losing that championship, in overtime, and has lived with that awful outcome for 14 years.
Clemson’s joy was only deferred so that bookkeepers could settle the final accounting for the bureau of NCAA statistics. It was like waiting on the final paperwork to receive the keys to your new Mercedes.
The ACTUAL national title was claimed with one second left, when Deshaun Watson hit Hunter Renfrow on a two-yard scoring pass in the right corner of the end zone.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
“It’s like I got KO’d in the third quarter and this is all a dream,” Renfrow, a former-walk on, said.
A needless extra point was necessary, then the obligatory squib quick to to run off the final second.
In this unrelenting age of instant replay, though, officials aborted the field rush and made all players return to their respective sideline to make sure the kick had gone 10 yards before a Clemson player recovered it.
He did, and Watson trotted out to take one more victory stop before falling on his back to soak it all in from the floor of Raymond James Stadium.
Clemson was finally allowed to let loose more than three decades of pent-up exhaust.
The final score was 35-31. Clemson had won the rematch of last year’s title game, with Watson dreaming he'd get a second crack to lead a game-winning drive.
He almost laughed when Alabama scored the go-ahead touchdown with two minutes left.
It was like handing him his victory speech.
"Let's be legendary," he told his teammates. "Let's go be great."
Watson’s quarterback hero is Vince Young, the former Texas star who, 11 years ago, led his team down field for the game-winning touchdown against USC in the Rose Bowl.
Watson did his own Young number on what was actually early Tuesday morning, driving his team 68-yards to cap a dream ending.
This was more than a Clemson win—it was a win for college football, which needed somebody to stand up to the neighborhood bullies from Tuscaloosa.
An Alabama win would have been its fifth title since 2008 and Saban’s sixth, overall, as a head coach.
At some point we all needed another team to win just to justify playing the regular season.
Alabama has won so often some of its most ardent fans stayed home this year.
Nah, Bobby Joe, I think I'll skip this one and catch our next title game next year in Atlanta.
Every championship reign, at some point, faces dynasty fatigue and maybe a little hubris.
So this was way more than just a win. This was a win for a Clemson program that had botched things up so many times over the years a verb was created in its dishonor.
The act of choking a game, usually under pressure, was known as “Clemsoning.”
“I get so tired of that stuff,” Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney huffed after the game.
So, it was no wonder Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware gave one of the greatest post-victory rants ever, claiming Monday’s win for every disparaged Tiger except Tony.
“It’s finally coming back!” Boulware screamed as only a linebacker can, “it’s finally coming home.”
No wonder Swinney used his post-game press conference to deliver a Dabo diatribe against all the disbelievers who stayed up nights poking voodoo needles into the team mascot.
It’s a classic "coach ploy" to cherry pick a few naysayers to exaggerate for a cause.
The nerve of some people thinking Alabama could be the better team, yet crowing has always been a time-honored right for the victor.
“Now you all got to change your stories, change your narrative,” Swinney bellowed.
Swinney personally called out radio host Colin Cowherd, as if anything said on a show is going to impact an outcome of a game.
Here's the thing: last year’s Clemson team maybe have been better and there is really no excusing the Tigers’ sloppy play at times this year.
Clemson almost lost at home to Troy, did lose at home to Pittsburgh, and would have been knocked out of the four-team playoff had a North Carolina State kicker not missed a chip shot field goal on Oct. 15.
Clemson should have lost, but prevailed in overtime.
To quote all the schools who have survived the perilous stretches of a regular season, “whew.”
What this Clemson team did, though, was get better. Unlike last year, this bunch didn’t suffer mental, or physical, fatigue in the critical weeks.
It was refreshing to see Watson come back from last year’s loss and this year’s Heisman Trophy snub.
In this respect he mimicked his hero Young, who was severely ticked off when Reggie Bush won the Heisman Trophy in 2005.
Young got his revenge with an epic performance against Bush’s Trojans.
Watson could handle finishing third in last year’s Heisman race, behind Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey.
This year, though, he finished second to Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, even though Clemson defeated Louisville this year. Jackson also stumbled into the barn, losing his last two regular season games before a third straight loss in the bowl.
Anyone want a re-vote?
“He didn’t lose out on the Heisman,” Swinney said of Watson. “The Heisman lost out on him. This was his Heisman tonight.”
This was also Clemson’s night, a different, needed night for college football. Alabama's trophy room can handled it.
It was good to see a made-up verb, Clemson-ing, finally expunged from the annals.
It was time for Webster's to find a new word, or just go back to "Rutgers-ing."
They were lost, and gone forever, but no more.
Oh my darling, Clemson Time.[/membership]