Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Wait...What just happened?

            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!!!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Tweet That!!

             First I would like to remember my uncle Haywood Bostic who fueled my love for Clemson football and helped me understand the game as a young man. While he is always on my heart, the week leading up to the Championship game he was front and center as I headed to Charlotte to see my Tigers play for an ACC Title.  As much fun as the beat down of the Hokies was his absence was felt in a profound way and I know he was smiling down as we finally busted down the door to a conference championship.

            I had commented what a difference three weeks makes as I was perusing Clemson message boards and saw numerous posts of people selling their tickets to the Championship game. The bandwagon had thinned out and looking back, I want thank those folks who did not have the character or the intestinal fortitude to stay by your team. Ultimately the Clemson Faithful who rolled in to Charlotte Saturday night rolled in leaner and meaner than they had all season.

            A lean and mean machine football team showed up in Charlotte on a cool crisp Saturday night. I did not have high expectations for the outcome but we were in the game as the Atlantic Division Champions and that gave us a chance.

            Upon arrival in Charlotte, we were welcomed to a Bowl-like atmosphere. The ratio of Clemson fans to Hokies  was roughly 2 to 1. On a side note, Charlotte has grown into a dynamic city. It is a city with southern genteel, coupled with professional exuberance that has allowed it to make tremendous strides in the last 20 years. Our colleagues from Blacksburg were walking around with a quiet yet smug confidence. Coming into the game the Hokies had won seven in a row and had risen to number five in the BCS rankings.

            Early in the week I think I was like a lot of Clemson fans who found themselves reeling from the loss to South Carolina. I am not sure what was more disturbing the fact that our Tigers had lost or the fashion in which the Gamecocks seemingly dispatched Clemson with relative ease. Then what was a ho-hum week, changed profoundly the Thursday prior to the ACC Championship game as Coach Swinney met with the press after practice.

            Coach Swinney responded to comments tied to South Carolina College coach Steve Spurrier regarding Clemson. While the comments may or may not have been made by Coach Spurrier, Coach Swinney’s response created a buzz throughout Clemson Nation that there was no reason for Clemson fans to be walking around with their heads down and with their tails tucked between their legs. We may never know who the comments were directed to but it served as a wake up call to a fan base that had lost its way just like its football team’s offense.

            Not that Clemson fans could have dreamed up what was about to transpire on the field in Charlotte, it was a shot in the arm that Clemson fans did not need to make any apologies to anyone about going to Charlotte and playing for an ACC Title. Prior to Thursday’s comments, there were offers all over Clemson message boards with people trying to off load their tickets to Charlotte. The feeling was not good surrounding this Clemson team. More time was being spent on Coach Swinney’s comments and the post-South Carolina game aftermath than the game in Charlotte.

            Luckily for Clemson fans, they are fans and not players. It was reported that Coach Swinney had a 2-hour meeting with his team the Monday leading up to the rematch with the Hokies. The meeting was about accountability to themselves and to each other. Football is a game of execution and it does not take Knute Rockne to know that this Clemson team was not executing well in any phase of the game.  Despite the cloud and uncertainty surrounding the Clemson team, they took the field with an opportunity to emerge Champions.

            It was clear from the get go, that this was a different Clemson team than what fans and coaches had seen in the closing weeks of the season. We saw a team that was focused on the task at hand and prepared to do what the coaches had prepared them to do. Despite the 10-10 score at half, it was becoming apparent it was one of those Saturdays where Clemson was the only team in the stadium that could stop Clemson.

            What transpired on the field of Bank of America Stadium during the first 16:56 of the second half was art in motion. Our Tigers came out like a team that was 30 minutes away from fulfilling its destiny and the execution, the poise displayed during the 3rd quarter will be appear in coaching clinics for years to come and may go down as one of the finest 3rd quarters in Clemson Football history. This team could not be stopped in any phase of the game.

            You saw coaches on the sidelines giving chest bumps and high fives. There was an energy and swagger on the Clemson sideline that had been missing since prior to the Georgia Tech game. Our good friend Mo Mentum picked a great night to reacquaint himself with the Clemson football team and fan base.

            There is so much in the third quarter that I see with each time I watch the replay on DVR. First and foremost is the fact that Clemson ran more running plays than pass plays. The offensive line held up after losing Phillip Price. Andre Ellington is the engine that makes this team go and he is one of the best backs to play at Clemson in recent history. Dwayne Allen is a beast. Sammy is Sammy. Do not forget about DeAndre Hopkins and Jaron Brown making big catches for this team. Andre Branch, Brandon Thompson those defensive linemen have played well all year.  Coty Sensabaugh a late addition when he signed with Clemson has been superb all year in the secondary. It is amazing when linebackers play downhill and with good run fits.

            A week later I am up on a Sunday morning still in disbelief of what happened last Saturday in Charlotte. Leave no doubt the Clemson University Fightin’ Tigers are the 2011 Atlantic Coast Conference Champions!!!

            I am thankful for my friends and their wives who took the time to travel to Charlotte and gather together with the opportunity reconnect, laugh and bond. There is not another group of people who I would have rather shared last Saturday night with than my boys.

            Our Tigers are Orange Bowl Bound. I cannot wait for the January 4, 2012 match up with the West Virginia Mountaineers.