Yes, tomorrow is both the end and the beginning for Dabo Swinney’s Tigers.
How they play tomorrow, as this season ends, will help determine the beginning of next season. Sweet beginnings, a fresh start, a clean slate filled with enthusiasm and hope, isn’t that far away.
Coaches diagram plays and draw them on an eraser board to explain the details, or the X’s and O’s to their players. It’s what coaches do. Teach, direct and lead those in their charge. That is of great importance to the success of any team but there is something even greater than drawings on an eraser board. It’s those in the seats, the ‘Jimmy’s and Joe’s.’ They are the heartbeat, the soul, the living embodiment of all we know and love about Clemson. The entire sport, every program, everything is about them. They matter and they are the reason for everything fans enjoy.
I could extoll the virtues of Clemson’s elite program and I always will but during this time of year, the bowl season, the student-athletes are ‘the reason for the season.’ It all begins and ends with them. As fans, we’d do well to never forget that fact.
I’ve read and heard, this non-playoff bowl game is a meaningless bowl. I admit it, I felt the same way for a while but I’ve changed my tune. I’m sure for the players, the Jimmy’s and Joe’s, having seen the bright lights of the playoff, this trip might be a little bit of a letdown. However, I’m sure once acclimated to the realities of their surroundings, they’ve begun to lighten up, and let their fun side take over. They’re still young enough to see the good. They’ve done it all season, they still believe.
A bowl, any bowl, is intended to be a reward for and thanks to these young men’s commitment and dedication to something bigger than themselves. Sure, there are different tiers of bowl games but each game is special. It’s really unfair and derogatory to imply any gift, any reward is meaningless.
Born in 1961, I’m old enough to remember most of the lean years, including the bowl drought from 1959-1976. It was just understood, bowls were for others to play in, not the Tigers. When Clemson was invited to play in the 1977 Gator Bowl, it was a huge blessing, it was exhilarating. Everyone was excited to be going somewhere, anywhere. Now, after six straight College Football Playoff appearances, two resulting in national championships, it’s easy as a team and a fan, to feel disappointment, or experience a letdown. It’s just a matter of perspective and human nature.
Life is short. Time is a precious commodity, and one must enjoy the moment. If we fail, being lost in the reflections of past glories, we lose the joy, the gratefulness. It insults the hosts, it insults the opponent and it insults the efforts of those Jimmy’s and Joe’s. Always remember, it’s about them.
I suspect when the teams assemble and the opening kickoff is received, it will be game on. Nothing but winning will matter. Hopefully, when the orange team hoists the trophy they earned, it won’t matter the size nor the prestige of the bowl. It signifies the end, a positive end to a strange but successful season. I know, I’ll be as proud as if they were the national champions.
It’s then and only then, this program can start to reclaim their rightful place in that rarefied air, at the mountaintop. Every journey, no matter the length, begins with those young men, the Jimmy’s and Joe’s taking that first step, as only they can. At that moment, the end becomes the beginning and what more could anyone ask.
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