PONTIFICATING FROM THE SUNSHINE STATE – APRIL 1
By Leo Haggerty

CLEMSON UNIVERSITY

First of all, and I will start EVERY article with this paragraph, sports pales in comparison with what is occurring with the Coronavirus. Hopefully, the columns that I, and the rest of our correspondents, provide you is a momentary escape from the trials and tribulations that Americans, and the rest of the world’s population, are experiencing. The COVID-19 is not a video game that you can press reset and get a new life. This is real and dangerous so, above all, be prudent and stay safe.

Being that I’m a football guy, no better university to start my College Mount Rushmore segments than with Clemson University.  The Tigers have been the most domination post-season program, sorry Alabama but you’ve been passed, with College Football Playoff appearances the last five years and taking home the hardware on two occasions.

Let’s examine how, as Head Coach Dabo Swinney often laments, “little old Clemson” is able to compete with the heavyweights on the gridiron.  Even more important is how the Orange & Purple are able to dominate the CFP landscape.  Enjoy.

1-WINNING THE 2018 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

I believe that winning the 2018 CFP Championship is the #1 Mount Rushmore moment for the Tigers..  There are two reasons why I think it’s head and shoulders above the other two pigskin titles won by Clemson and a basketball milestone.

The first is that the 2018 Champs were the initial Division I football program in NCAA history to post a perfect 15-0 mark.  As the head honcho emphasized at Death Valley during the celebration that occurred the Saturday following the Tigers triumph, going undefeated in the CFP era was a “drop the mike” event.

I couldn’t have put in any better than Swinney did.  Up to that point, running the table in Major College football was a dream.  The Tigers made it a reality and did it in a convincing manor.

The second reason is the way Clemson ran roughshod over the competition in 2018.  The Tigers only had one scare in posting 12 consecutive wins during the regular season and, trust me, it was a legitimate grabbing victory from the jaws of defeat moment.

With starting true freshman QB Trevor Lawrence sitting out the second half after having his bell rung before halftime, CU had to come from behind at home to defeat upset-minded Syracuse.  A late stop by the defense forced the Orangemen to punt.  That gave the Clemson offense the football with 6 minutes left in the tilt.  That was the good news.  The bad news was there’s 94 yards of real estate to traverse with third-string quarterback Chase Brice at the helm.  A daunting task for sure..

Brice stepped up and  directed a 13-play winning drive and, in the process, converted a fourth-and-6 with a 20-yard strike to WR Tee Higgins to move the ball into Syracuse territory.  Then, for good measure, the Grayson, Georgia sophomore  rumbled 17 yards to put the Tigers in field goal range if necessary.

That became a moot point when four plays later RB Travis Etienne scampered to paydirt from 2 yards away with 41 ticks left in the game.  The Clemson defense took it from their and kept Syracuse at bay as time expired.  The Tigers dodged a huge bullet and a wake up call was issued.

The closest any team got from that point to Clemson was a 27-7 victory at Boston College.  That included a 42-10 drubbing of Pitt in the ACC Championship game.  Then a 30-3 dismantling of Notre Dame in the CFP Semifinal tilt in the Cotton Bowl.  Finally, in the Championship encounter, the Tigers “dropped da bomb” on Alabama and totally dominated the Crimson Tide to the tune of 44-16 in California at Levi’s Stadium.

The facts speak for themselves.  In my humble opinion, this is the highest peak on the Clemson Mount Rushmore. .

2-WINNING THE 1981 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

Taking some heat on this one especially from my family members.  Still, I have one overriding issue with my choice.

The fact that this was the first football National Championship for Clemson is huge.  The Orange & Purple capped a perfect 12-0 campaign when Head Coach Danny Ford led the Tigers to a hard-fought 22-15 victory over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.

Yes, I know it was a mythical National Championship that was won on paper and not between the lines.  Still, it was the first of three and that carries a lot of weight with me.

3-WINNING THE 2016 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

This one almost got me excommunicated from all family events.  Oh, I forgot to tell you that my son is a proud Clemson grad and was in attendance.  That adds points to the scorecard.  My bad.

Plus, it was in Tampa which is my stomping grounds along with numerous family members.  Another reason to advance this moment higher on the mountain.

I think the major reason fans of Tiger Rag would put this higher was the drama of the 2016 CFP Championship.  The game was 60 minutes of ebb and flow with no team taking command until the final play and that final 2:07 will forever live in Clemson history.

Tiger QB Deshaun Watson, playing his last game in the Orange & Purple, engineered a picture perfect drive that went 68 yards in 9 plays that took all but one second of clock time.  The last play, which was All American Watson hitting walk on WR Hunter Renfrow, made the final arithmetic 35-31 and the celebration began at Raymond James Stadium.

Watson cemented the claim that he is the GOAT, Greatest Of All Time, of Clemson football.  Renfrow will be a piece of Tiger trivia that will make you money at your local watering hole.

Yes, I know this Tiger team won the National Championship on the field and wasn’t awarded the title by a panel of media members.  I may be inclined to listen to arguments that this squad should move up the mountain to a higher peak at a later date.  Just not now.

4-WINNING AGAINST THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA IN CHAPEL HILL

Yes, the was just a regular season men’s basketball game between two long time Atlantic Coast Conference opponents to the average fan.  So why do I have it as the fourth peak of the Clemson Mount Rushmore?  Read on and see why.

Starting the 2019-20 ACC schedule, the Clemson men’s basketball team has never beaten UNC in Chapel Hill.  That adds up to an 0-59 log for the Tigers on Tobacco Road.

Well, that streak, which began in 1926, has ended.  Head Coach Brad Brownell finally has the proverbial monkey off his back when the Orange & Purple put an end to the longest home winning streak against a single opponent in NCAA history with a nail biting 79-76 triumph in overtime..

Yeah, I know.  It was just a meaningless regular season tilt in the middle of January that no one will remember.   That won’t be the case in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in South Carolina.  The streak is finally over.

That’s my Mount Rushmore of Clemson athletics.  Let me know if you have a different view from the upper deck of Death Valley.