The sequel is never as good as the original, or at least that’s what they say.
In what felt like déjà vu of last year’s 2016 National Championship, the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Clemson Tigers battled in one of the greatest games of all time. Through four quarters of gridiron combat, final second heroics, and the memory of last year’s anguish, Clemson rewrote the ending of last year’s title game; defeating the best to become the best.
Rising From Defeat
Last year’s College Football Playoff National Championship saw the Crimson in jubilation, while players in orange were helped off the field with tears in their eyes; those images were ingrained in the minds of this Clemson team.
“We’ll be back,” said Dabo Swinney following last year’s 45-40 loss last season. “It’s been 34 years since we’ve had an opportunity, but it won’t be 34 years before we get back here.”
Just 363 days later, Dabo Swinney and his Tigers were back; determined to re-write their story. The Tigers were led by quarterback Deshaun Watson, who threw for 420 yards despite facing an Alabama defense argued to be the best in its programs’ history.
Overcoming two early turnovers and an Alabama blitz at the end of the game that looked to all but hand Alabama the trophy, the Tigers remained.
With just under two minutes left, the Tigers trailed by three points. With the ball at their own 32-yard line, Watson led a commanding drive under center. Just nine plays later, the Tiger’s advanced 68 yards with just one single second left on the game clock. There is no doubt that in that final second, images of last year’s title game raced through the minds of Dabo Swinney and his players; a victory so close in sight, yet kept out of reach. With a snap and the clock at 0:00, Deshaun Watson connected with former walk-on Hunter Renfrow for a two-yard touchdown to win the Tigers’ their first National Championship since 1981.
“You can’t make it up, man,” Dabo Swinney said with tears in his eyes following the game.
“I’m speechless right now, man,” said Watson. “We worked so hard for it. We fell short last year. This game is not just for me, it’s for all the alumni, the fans, my family in Gainesville.”
“It’s been 35 long years. Clemson, y’all been waiting 35 years. It’s finally coming home, baby! It’s coming home!” said linebacker Ben Boulware.
Entering Monday’s title game, Alabama’s Nick Saban was undefeated while playing in national championship games. After Clemson gained the lead, the Tide took it back with less than three minutes to play. Clemson, with its season and heart on the line for the second year in a row, moved down the field against the best defense in college football, coached by the greatest coach in college football, to re-write their story and win it all.
In sports, that’s the definition of greatness. And now, “the tide has changed” and the Clemson Tigers are on top.