Success At Clemson Can Occur When Fans Least Expect It

By Travis Patterson
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

From last to first. From the basement of the American League East, to the best team in baseball. The Boston Red Sox captured their third World Series title since 2004 last night and became living proof that sports is an unpredictable mystery that even the most dedicated journalists have yet to fully understand. Everything must come together in a particular order and fashion for a team to reach the pinnacle of their sport, and let’s not forget the love/hate relationship between sports and its hot and cold friend named Luck. No one expected much out of the Red Sox this season, but with the right chemistry, character, matchups, schedule and of course luck, they were able to capture lightening in a bottle and win the crown.

Clemson and their fans thought that this would be a dream season — a season in which they would make the cross-country trip to Pasadena, CA to watch their Tigers raise the crystal ball. However, despite a talented roster and a favorable home schedule, the Tigers are no longer undefeated, thanks to the surprising sensation that is Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles. But why do Clemson fans act like the season is over and consider it a failure? Only one team wins the national championship, and every little detail must fall into place in order to achieve that ultimate goal. Clemson can still finish with a terrific season, and fans need to realize that sometimes, success can occur when you least expect it.

This season was considered Clemson’s best chance of capturing a national championship since their 1981 magical run. The 1981 team is the only Clemson team to win the national championship, and they are considered the greatest team in the history of the program. However, the most important thing to note is that the Tigers were not expected to do much of anything that season. Danny Ford was entering his third season in 1981 and coming of a mediocre 6-5, 2-4 season in 1980. The defense was anything but effective in 1980, surrendering more than 20 points per contest. Quarterback Homer Jordan did not show any resemblance of a college signal-caller, as he threw twice as many interceptions than he did touchdowns. Their leading rusher, Chuck McSwain, only accumulated 544 yards with three touchdowns. The Tigers were settled near the bottom of the ACC by the time the 1980 season ended, a season where the Tigers did not even attend a bowl game.

Ford was a young coach who took over when Charley Pell bolted for Florida, and alumni and fan’s pessimism about Ford’s lack of head coaching experience was confirmed after the disaster of the 1980 season. The expectations for Clemson entering the 1981 season were simple: there were none. Then something happened that cannot be fully explained or understood. The Tigers were 2-0 hosting No. 4, and defending national champion, Georgia led by a walking brick house who went by the name of Herschel Walker. Clemson was not expected to win this game, even by their own fans, but a ferocious defense anchored by All-Americans Terry Kinard, Jeff Davis and William Perry stoned the Bulldog attack all day. Clemson won the game 13-3 and instead of taking the exit where a loss was waiting for them, they stayed on the interstate all the way to Miami.

It all culminated when Jordan played like a national championship quarterback, at least for one night, and was named offensive MVP of the Orange Bowl win over traditional power Nebraska. The 1981 defense shaved nearly 12 points off of their scoring average from the previous year, allowing only 8.75 points per contest. How was it possible that this little school tucked away in the hills of upstate South Carolina took down historically dominant programs with a 33 year old head coach?  They were able to capture lightening in a bottle. The 1981 championship team was not even preseason ranked, but yet, was able to defeat every team in their path en route to a 12-0 record.

Florida State was expected to be in rebuilding mode this season, but now find themselves on the cusp of a national championship appearance. Sports, college football specifically, is a puzzle where every individual piece must fit perfectly in all of the right locations. A 12-0 Auburn team was left out of the national championship game in 2004, but yet a 10-2 LSU team backed their way into the title game in 2007. A national championship season would have been special for Clemson and their fans, but just because it’s not going to happen this year, does not mean that it won’t ever happen again. The greatest feature of college football is the fact that lightening can strike in any given season.

Travis Patterson, Writer For ACC  Football Writers Association of America.  Follow on Twitter @tpat20.

You May Also Like