It is truly amazing how quickly the college football season comes and goes. We spend so much time yearning for September and then before you know it is October and one-third of the season is already in the books. What is even crueler for people like me is that the end is near. Around midnight on January 4 the 2011 season will be in the books and I will start the countdown all over again.
It is hard to believe I have been living this Groundhog Day type existence for as long as I can remember. There is something about the fall that brings me and others like me to life. I have long sought to figure out what that is that causes this drastic transformation and I think I have figured it out. It is the elusiveness of experiencing that moment when your team is the last team standing, it is living in the moment where you feel like you are on top of the world and no one and nothing can bring you down. It is walking into your team’s stadium and feeling like you are home. It is gathering with friends often on the same site as some of the best years of your life.
It is all these things that make college football special. As Clemson Alum and fan, it gets more personal. It is that feeling of knowing, indeed, “There are something in these hills.” It is the concrete structure on the west side of campus that still becomes one of the larger cities in the state of South Carolina on fall Saturdays. It is hearing Frank Howard say, “If ya ain’t gonna give me a 110%, keep your filthy hands off my rock.” It is hearing the first chords of the Orange Bowl March as another edition of the Clemson Football team awaits atop of a hill in the, “Most Exciting 25 Seconds in College Football.” It is singing the alma mater at the end of each contest, win or lose because my love and devotion for my school goes beyond wins and losses.
It is that same love and devotion that often takes us on an emotional roller coaster throughout the fall. Game to game, week to year, year to year, we lose ourselves because our happiness and moods are dictated by the actions or inaction of 18-22 year old children. I never said being a college football fan was healthy or made 100% sense but right or wrong this is the reality for many a man and woman.
Because of the microwave culture we live in, often experiences are lost in the busyness of life and memorable experiences are missed because we fail to reflect on what we have just experienced. There are so many moments of the 2011 season that I will remember. The magical three game stretch in late September and October is unlike anything I had experienced in recent memory. Lets be frank I was 12 years old and living in Colorado the last time Clemson won an ACC Football Title.
We fell behind Auburn at home and it had shades of yet another disappointing let down but these guys began to show that they were different from Clemson teams in the past. The following week we held off a pesky Florida State team who had been showered with National Championship chatter all summer. It was October 1 and my Tigers were 4-0 heading into Blacksburg, where they had little success in recent visits.
The wins against Auburn and Florida State were nice but a cold, wet, dreary Lane Stadium awaited these young Tigers. It was time to put up or shut up against the big kid on the block the Hokies of Virginia Tech. Winners of four ACC Titles since joining the conference less than 10 years ago, they had a right to have an air to them.
I was stuck at home with a catheter in and a bag hanging off my lazy boy coming off of surgery earlier in the week. All the pain and discomfort in the world was not going to keep me from watching the game. Most know how animated and emotional I get during Clemson football games and this one would bring out many emotions throughout but not to be lost was a sure fire way to tame me during a Clemson game. Have a five tube running out of you and I assure you become acutely aware that one false move can and will put you into an indescribable agony that you would not share with your worst enemy.
In the midst of my timidity, my mighty Tigers went to Blacksburg and roared like a Tiger standing over its prey. Even the honey badger stood in applause on that chilly October evening that saw Clemson deliver an emphatic road win that started a national stir around the 2011 team and the Clemson program.
It would be another two weeks before I got to see my beloved Tigers in person. I made the short drive over to College Park, MD to see Clemson take on the Maryland Terrapins. It is this game that I came away knowing that this team was special. Falling down by 18 points twice to ultimately come back and win by 11 in regulation is mind-boggling. Early on it seemed like the fairytale would come to a not so happy ending.
The thing that stood out about the Maryland game was what took place before the game. I gathered with friends from college grilling out, enjoying food, reliving days gone by and then going to the game. That night was an indoctrination night for one person in our group, there first time at a Clemson football game and their first Clemson football game with James. God is good because the feeling of jubilation that she witnessed from me was much more attractive than what would have been on display if we had lost.
While in the midst of this up and down emotional roller coaster real life is still happening on the outskirts of this oblong shaped piece of leather that causes even some of the nicest, well-mannered people to suffer a slip of the tongue. For me it was October 29. Clemson is playing Georgia Tech and I am on my way to Delaware for a family wedding. For a kid who grew up in Atlanta, this was the perfect storm of torment. It was an evening wedding so the game would be going strong during the reception.
As much as I would have liked to have skipped the reception, it just was not an option. It gets better, the country had been split by ABC and the game being shown was Stanford-USC (the real USC). The only thing I had was my phone. I had spent most of the day trying to talk myself into being classy and not allowing the ebb and flow of the game to impact my enjoyment of the reception. I was able to watch some games between the ceremony and the reception, so I was feeling pretty good about being able to handle myself and by the way, Georgia Tech had just gotten their butts kicked the week before, Clemson would be in a fight but in the end would cruise on to victory and everyone would be happy.
As we all know this did not happen. In fact it got ugly and it got ugly early for my Tigers. Nothing was going right and my ability to put a happy face on quickly went up in smoke. I did not care about the stupid reception, I was pissed, at this point in the season, we were 8-0 and I will be man enough to admit it, I had National Championship on the mind and those plans were crashing in on me like a ton of bricks.
By the time we leave the reception, Clemson is down 14 in the 4th. At this point I wanted to be left alone and was glad no one was left to ask me how Clemson was doing. I am fortunate to have satellite radio in our car so I was listening to Wes Durham on the call, when we forced the turnover that we needed to get back into the game. I had gotten my swagger back and then my All-ACC quarterback threw the ball into the end zone and right into the hands of a Yellow Jacket defender. I was crushed. I remember walking into the hotel, with my head down in disbelief. Any delusions of grandeur had gone out the door.
It took me a good while to go to sleep that night. I was so pissed. I hate losing in general but I loathe Georgia Tech and they had ended my dream season temporarily. The Tigers would lose 3 of their next four but was able to secure the Atlantic Division Championship in a thrilling win over Wake Forest.
Then came the rematch. At this point you had two team heading into Charlotte heading in two very different directions, the Hokies were riding a 7 game win streak with their only loss coming at the hands of my Tigers back in October. Clemson had lost three of four, including a butt whooping in Columbia from South Carolina College.
The boys dressed in Orange came up with a performance no one could have dreamed of based on what had happened during the last quarter of the season. Early in the 4th quarter barring a meltdown of nuclear proportions I was on my way to experience that feeling of watching my team celebrate as the last team standing. It may not have been a Nation Title but it did not matter. 20 years of angst and frustration were relieved.
The win as great as it was, did not surpass the time spent with friends and family before and after the game. We can talk about the hoopla, the pain that is noon kickoffs, stupid play calls and so on, but what always stands out when I am on my way home is the time spent with people.
The friends who make the fall weekend pilgrimages to see their Tigers play makes for such a meaningful and purposeful day. Regardless of the outcome on the field I am always thankful for the opportunity to gather as friends, to cheer on a team, represent a school and community we all love. I will not forget this season for many reasons but the main reason is because of the time spent with people I care about and share unbreakable bonds with. I am blessed beyond measure to have that as a reality in my life and I appreciate everyone who has shared this 2011 Clemson Football journey with me. It ain’t over just yet, we have one more but what an unforgettable year it has been and thank you for being apart of it.
Happy New Year Everyone!!!