CLEMSON’S COACHES, players and fans are understandably hurting after the Tigers’ close loss Monday night in the national college football championship game. But in their disappointment, they should still burst with pride for how the Tigers played in college football’s brightest spotlight — and all year long.
In fact, all of South Carolina should burst with pride, and celebrate the success and the class of Clemson’s football team — just as we have all celebrated the success and class of the championship baseball teams at archrival USC. When our teams make it into national contention, our whole state wins, whether we normally bleed garnet or orange.
And even if this is a bridge too far for USC fans, certainly Clemson fans should be excited about their chances of returning to the title game next year and bringing home the trophy.
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Monday’s game against Alabama marked the first time in 34 years that Clemson played for a national championship. But despite the Tigers’ inexperience in the title game, the moment was clearly not too big for them. They went toe-to-toe with Alabama, which has now won four of the past seven national championships and is the reigning bully of the Southeastern Conference.
Every time the Tigers seemed backed into a corner, they responded with a key score. Even when they trailed by 12 with just 1:07 left in the game, the Tigers didn’t quit. They scored a touchdown with 12 seconds left and tried an onside kick.
Oh, if they could have just recovered it.
Deshaun Watson once again led the Tigers. Mr. Watson — who finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in December — shared the field Monday night with the Heisman winner, Derrick Henry.
The Tigers’ amazing quarterback accounted for 478 of Clemson’s 550 total yards. He also dominated one of the nation’s best defenses, the same one that shut out Michigan State in the semi-finals.
While Mr. Henry was good too — he scored three touchdowns and rushed for 158 yards — it’s too bad the Heisman voting wasn’t held after Monday night’s game. Mr. Watson was clearly the better player.
Another hero for Clemson was receiver Hunter Renfrow of Myrtle Beach, who originally walked on to the team. He caught the Tigers’ first two touchdown passes and finished with seven catches — the most of any receiver in the game — and 88 yards.
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Clemson’s fans deserve much praise as well. Thousands of them traveled to Glendale, Ariz., to cheer — loudly — for their Tigers. The Arizona Republic reported that at the Monday morning tailgating, Clemson fans seemed to outnumber Alabama’s by about 10-to-1.
“We’re extremely passionate,” one fan told the newspaper. “Rain, sleet or snow, Clemson Nation’s going to show.”
Clemson was seeking to become the first college football team ever to finish a season 15-0. Until Monday night, the Tigers enjoyed one magical moment after another: beating Notre Dame and Florida State, winning the state championship over South Carolina and the ACC championship over North Carolina, and routing Oklahoma in the national semi-finals.
If not for a gutsy onside kick by Alabama in the fourth quarter — or if not for two mistakes in the secondary that led to easy Crimson Tide touchdowns — the dream season would have ended perfectly.
Still, the Tigers have much to be proud about. They also have reason to hope. Several early polls — including USA Today’s — have Clemson ranked No. 1 heading into the 2016 season.
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Mr. Watson will be back next season, as will up to eight more offensive starters. Some key defensive players may be gone, but the Tigers have shown they can replace key players and still win. They are one of only two major college teams to win at least 10 games five years in a row.
While Clemson and its fans are disappointed after Monday’s game, they, and all of us, have much to celebrate.
Maybe next year, they will have even more success.