Monday night’s national title game was more than a classic bout between southeastern heavyweights.
It was a reminder. A reminder of how no sport can top the romance of college football; that no game can foster such raw emotion and make us feel it countless miles away.
Clemson’s 35-31 comeback win over Alabama had everything you wanted. A peak Crimson Tide defense that was obliterating the Tigers out of the gates, fueling an offense en route to what felt like a massive 14-point lead.
There were people writing Clemson off before halftime. ESPN broadcaster Kirk Herbstreit kept talking about how “rattled” Heisman Trophy runner-up Deshaun Watson was.
But the two-time Davey O’Brien award winner settled in and, once he did, he put on an all-time performance. He led the Tigers offense to a scoring drive right before the half and, despite falling behind by 10 points twice in the third quarter, Clemson won the final frame 21-7 thanks to his relentless passing attack.
Watson finished the night 36 of 56 for 420 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran the ball 21 times for 43 yards and a score. Four of his receivers had at least five receptions for 90 yards.
The game-winning touchdown came with one second remaining. That drive, which began with barely two minutes left, followed a 30-yard TD run by Alabama’s Jalen Hurts – a play that could’ve easily iced the game.
Clemson was focused on victory, though. Watson hit Mike Williams for an insane 24-yard snag to spark the rally. Five plays later, he found Jordan Leggett for 17. After a pass interference call put the ball at the 2-yard line, Watson rolled right and hit a wide open Hunter Renfrow in the flat to punctuate his entry in the history books.
It was football brilliance. The kind of game you put in the recent annals alongside Vince Young’s masterpiece in the 2006 Rose Bowl, or the 2003 double-overtime thriller between Miami and Ohio State.
After the clock hit zero – following another unnecessary review by the most yoked referee ever – the feels really began to flood in.
There was Watson, kneeling with tears running down a face that was clearly humbled by the moment. There was coach Dabo Swinney – one of the best interviews in sports – taking a single question and blasting us with five minutes of unadulterated passion and joy, speaking about love and climbing the mountaintop.
Then there was linebacker Ben Boulware, screaming from the stage and crediting the Clemson players that built the foundation for this team to stand on before shouting, “After 35 long years, it’s coming home baby!”
This is it, folks. No other league has this type of magic.
And I know how uninterested the West Coast is when it comes to college football. I asked a bunch of people at the office what their plans were for the game, and most of them had no idea it was being played, or gave me an, “Oh, that’s tonight?”
But the NFL, the NBA, Major League Baseball (when the Chicago Cubs aren’t in the World Series) do little to choke up an unaffiliated spectator on these types of nights. I would imagine anyone that went to a football school felt some type of glamorized emotion as they watched it all unfold.
A team that had been on the cusp for years finally had its moment. They were given a rare rematch of the 2016 title game and, like a poet’s dream, they exacted their revenge.
Clemson took us to the church of football. Swinney was at the altar, preaching all the clichés in a non-cliché way that makes you want to put on a helmet and run through wall after wall after wall.
“Bring your own guts” was the message, and the Tigers showed us that they’ve got ‘em.