“A National Championship for a good man”

A lifelong Auburn fan might have been expected to pull for a team dressed in orange and called the Tigers against our longtime nemesis, the University of Alabama Crimson Tide.  Visiting the Tampa Bay area while on a business trip to Clearwater Beach, my wife and I didn’t attend the National Championship game this past Monday evening.  Nevertheless, we were surrounded by the rabid fans of both Clemson and Alabama as they played for the right to call themselves the best team in the land.
Even an Auburn fan can give a lot of credit to the Alabama team.  They have enjoyed unbelievable success during the past 10 years of the Nick Saban era.  His achievements may soon eclipse those of the legendary “Bear” Bryant, if they haven’t already.
There seemed to be a certain amount of Alabama fatigue that hit college football fans belonging to all the teams this year.   Outside of those pulling for Alabama or Clemson, the SEC or the ACC, there were people that just wanted to see someone else beside the Crimson Tide claim the trophy this year;  anybody but Bama.
This seems to have been Clemson’s year.  While the win came during the last couple of seconds of the game, it was no fluke.  Clemson deserved the return visit to the Championship Game and clearly wanted to avenge their close loss to Alabama last year.   Clemson claimed the crown and it seemed to fit nicely.  
It couldn’t have happened without Clemson’s quarterback, Deshaun Watson, whose athletic ability has lifted the team to the pinnacle of college football.  Other Clemson players stepped up late in the game when so many others have folded against Alabama’s overwhelming talent, strength, athleticism, and even luck.   It was Alabama that seemed worn down at the end of the game, not Clemson.
Regardless of which team you may have been pulling for, you have to be happy for Clemson’s coach, Dabo Swinney.  He was elevated to Head Coach in 2008 after becoming Interim Head Coach following Tommy Bowden’s mid-season departure.   He gives a great post-game interview and seems to truly inspire his players both on and off the field.
The truth is that Coach Swinney is an inspiration to me, and probably to all that have heard the challenges of his youth.  He overcame adversity without acquiring bitterness.  His positive nature served him well as he found his way to college, coaching, and finally to Clemson University.
Along the way, Swinney became only the second player in history to play for a national championship team and later coach a national championship team.  Only Coach Bud Wilkinson of the University of Oklahoma ever accomplished this feat, the first time 67 years ago.
At the end, as I watched the mighty Tide walk quietly to their locker room while listening to the wild cheers of the Clemson faithful, I had a couple of thoughts.   First, Alabama will be back.  There is no shame in losing to another great team.  They will continue to recruit at the highest level, return to the playoffs and probably defeat my Auburn Tigers more often than I would like.
Second, Clemson will be back as well.   They have established a foundation as a top rated program that will likely last for years to come.
Finally, as I watched Coach Swinney’s emotional post-game interview, he gave all the credit to God.  I am not sure if God was pulling for Clemson over Alabama, but I think He would be well pleased with Coach Swinney, who proved in his own life that you can overcome almost anything if you have faith, hope and love.
This seemed to be the right time for Clemson to win it all.  Congratulations to the Tigers, the Clemson nation, and to Dabo Swinney, who also proved that sometimes nice guys really do finish first.
o0o
Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]

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