The last time this happened, I was a college freshman having the time of my life; so many years ago I'm not going to tell you how many, because even I am having a hard time believing the distance between then and now.
Born and raised in Athens, Georgia, Saturdays in the fall meant only one thing: GA football. I took it for granted at the time, the way Youth doesn't know any better, the way you just don't realize you're livin' in the middle of the Good Ol' Days.
Leaving Neverland eventually opened my eyes to understand that sitting on the hill with your friends was the best way to watch a game, that there was bourbon in those silver flasks people passed around, that my friends' parents must've paid a lot of money to score those tailgaiting spots right outside the gate. Also, it wasn't a big deal that I was friends with Coach Dooley's daughters and spent time in their home and went to homecoming with one of his sons (chauffered by Coach's wife, Barbara, in a white captain's hat and uniform because he couldn't drive yet or I couldn't single-car-date or somethin'…).
Yes, eventually, I would comprehend the simple wonder and greatness of those Saturdays between the hedges…plus the scent of brown liquor forever-after would conjure memory of sweat and grass and crowd noise and freedom and happiness. All that without taking a sip.
Apparently none of that mattered, however, because I'd forsake those GA Bulldogs and go to college an hour and a half up the road to "where the Tigers play…." I thought I'd end up at UGA the next year, but I made best friends and fell in love with a place that still stirs my soul when I return, and the next year I'd meet and fall in love with the man who still shares my life.
Over the years my affections shifted a bit, and I discovered I was less of a football fan and more of general school fan. I think it was something about painting Tiger paws on cheeks with Q-tips dipped in orange tempra.
I loved my years at Clemson.
Under the charge of head coach Danny Ford, and the ferocious play of Homer Jordan, Perry Tuttle, Terry Kinard, Jeff Davis, Donald Igwebulke and William-the-Refrigerator-Perry (and the rest of the team) Clemson would eventually play 11 games, win 11 games and earn their only-ever National Championship with a decisive win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
I remember being conflicted when the Tigers prowled into Georgia, and if it's possible, I was pulling for both sides. Daddy paid $100 each for our tickets – highway robbery. I felt awful he did it and doubly awful I was happy about it.
The next fall would see Clemson's football program placed on probation following an investigation that identified 150 recruiting violations. It would last the remainder of my collegiate years.
I suppose their National Championship team was the best money could buy.
They saved the best for last.
The best game of their season to the best opponent of their season to the best nailbiting, drama-riddled, hold-your-breath-and-stop-your-heart last play of the season.
My word. The Clemson-LSU Chick-fil-A Bowl was everything you (and by "you" I mean "I") want in a game.
Intensity. Drama. Action. An underdog's victory. A come-from-behind-at-the-last-second win for MY team.
The game was a game of lessons; not just for the field but for life:
- You've got what it takes.
- Never, ever, ever give up if your goal is good and worthy of your time, talents and effort.
- Persistence and determination pay off.
- Play to your strengths but don't underestimate the contribution of your weaker suits.
- Stay focused on the prize and don't allow temporary setbacks to throw you off course.
- Play the game you know (that one killed LSU's chance at the end of the game).
I'm sure you could add to the list if you watched.
I hated Sammy Watkins' injury sidelined him after the initial drive. As a mama, it killed me to see the pummeling Tajh Boyd endured, but time after time he shook it off and kept going. Chandler Catanzaro refused to be iced when the weight of the game fell on his shoulders. No matter how hard LSU tried to lay down and slow the game down, it didn't matter.
I doubt anyone woulda put a dime on Clemson's defense to be the difference maker in the game. Like I said, I'm not even a die-hard football fan but I knew that much.
Yesterday I would have never imagined that my first post of the New Year would be about football.
Then, again, I don't think it's about football at all.