Reminders of the 1981 national championship are at every turn, none as accessible and accommodating as Jeff Davis, linebacker, co-captain, heart and soul on Clemson’s most decorated football team.
Davis never skipped an opportunity to talk about his team and that season, but nostalgia was off the charts this week as the Tigers prepared for their trip to Glendale, Ariz., to play Alabama for the national championship on Monday.
“We sowed the seed 30-some years ago,” said Davis, assistant athletics director for football player relations. “It’s time to go have babies.”
A few bridges link the generations. For example, according to the Clemson media relations staff, the dates of 10 games this season coincided precisely with the dates of games in 1981, including the opener Sept. 5 against – wait for it – Wofford. Or that Clemson defeated Miami this season, 58-0, and in ’81 Clemson beat Wake Forest, 82-24, a 58-point difference.
Obviously, the most tangible connection is that coaches Danny Ford and Dabo Swinney are both natives of Alabama and played at the University of Alabama, but that seems to be prerequisite for the job at Clemson.
Davis, the fifth member of the Clemson Ring of Honor, said that in conversations with his teammates he sensed the pride. Nicknamed “The Judge,” he established a record for tackles that season that lasted for 18 years. He sees a similarity in this team’s toughness.
“I will always love the blue-collar aspect,” Davis said. “Our team has exhibited that in such a tremendous fashion. We are physically tough, and we are mentally tough. Because of that, the ebbs and flows of the game don’t bother us.
“We’re going to whip you and make you feel it.”
Davis and two of his former teammates have sons on the current team, one has a nephew. In fact, Davis has two sons – twins Judah and J.D. – who are redshirt freshmen linebackers. He relishes the chance of sharing a similar journey with them.
“I get to experience at my alma mater with my sons playing the game that I love,” he said. In his role, Davis considers all the players as members of his extended family, but especially for Judah and J.D., “I’m jumping up and down with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm.”
Davis glows when he speaks of this team’s leadership, a role he was chief in filling as a player.
“The chemistry on this football team, to me, that’s what championship football is all about,” Davis said. “I believe everything rises and falls with the leadership.”
When Davis speaks with his former teammates, the conversation includes a comparison of one team versus the other.
“We talk about it, and you’re always going to get talking about which team is the best, the players they have and the players we had. That’s just normal, competitive stuff,” he said.
“All I know is that our team was undefeated. For me, that’s where it begins and where it ends,” he said. “They have the opportunity to do the same thing. We might talk about it then.”
Davis believes this team has all the earmarks of a champion.
“You don’t win 14 in a row without thinking you can win 15,” Davis said. “We’ve had 14 tests and we passed each one of them. We passed them against some very good programs and some very good football teams.
“So there’s no doubt that we’re not just going to the national championship. We’re going to the national championship to win.”
Who: Clemson (14-0) vs. Alabama (13-1)
When: Monday, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Glendale, Ariz.
Line: Alabama by 6 1/2