Clemson coach Dabo Swinney promised the Tigers would have the “biggest pizza party ever” with the release of the College Football Playoff standings Sunday afternoon.
And Swinney delivered – as did Clemson fans, showing up at about 30,000 strong at Death Valley to celebrate the Tigers claiming the top spot in the playoff.
A DJ played music and Clemson’s team was honored before the announcement was played on the video board. Fans cheered when ESPN confirmed Clemson as the No. 1 playoff seed, meeting No. 4 Oklahoma on New Year’s Eve in Miami.
“Only in Clemson do you have a day like today,” Swinney said. “Basketball’s got March Madness. We’ve got poll celebration party. I don’t know what happened at the other three schools, but I doubt it was like this. This was crazy, but a lot of fun.”
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The other College Football Playoff semifinal has No. 2 seed Alabama playing No. 3 seed Michigan State in Dallas.
Clemson’s team did not arrive home from Charlotte until close to 4 a.m. Sunday. There was a team meeting at 11 a.m. before the Tigers walked out onto the field to a thunderous ovation.
“It’s phenomenal. The support we have here at Clemson is unique to any other school in the nation,” senior guard Eric Mac Lain said. “Like we say, this is a family, and that expands further than the football team. That’s our fan base and people in the surrounding community. It really is special.”
Swinney said in early November he was trying to prove that Clemson wasn’t worried about its spot in the playoff ranking until the final poll. He then made a statement about throwing a pizza party if the Tigers appeared set to be one of the top four teams Dec. 6, and shortly thereafter, a potential pizza party was a national story.
“I just kind of say sometimes what pops into my head without really thinking it through,” Swinney said. “I was just simply trying to talk about the insignificance of the poll and say ‘Listen, we’re not dialed in on that. The only poll we’re interested in is December 6’ … I have no idea where that came from in my head, but I said ‘We’ll celebrate the poll.’”
Putting together the party was no easy task. The Tigers got an assist from Papa Johns and had to have stadium workers on hand to work in concessions stands and sell drinks.
“A lot of people got involved and I created a lot of stress for a lot of people, but it was a lot of fun,” Swinney said. “I felt like our team needed to be celebrated and our fans needed to be celebrated. It was a great moment together.”
Each fan received a coupon for one slice of pizza from the concession stands.
Saturday night in Charlotte, Clemson had a huge crowd advantage over North Carolina in the ACC Championship game. It appeared that about 80 percent of the crowd was dressed in orange, and Swinney was happy to reward his fan base for making the trip.
“Last night was like a home game. It was incredible the amount of orange,” he said. “When our defense was out there, it felt like being in Death Valley. It was just amazing.”