It was the College Football National Championship. The score was 14-7. Clemson was in their white uniforms, Alabama in their crimson. Alabama had the ball. I heard a voice say, “Don’t worry. It will be alright.” And then I woke up.
It was 7:30am EST on January 9, 2017. Gameday baby! THE Game! It was also the calmest I’ve ever been before a big Clemson game. I was also focused; we had to get to our big tailgate, after all. Wheels up at 9:30 boys!
The lights of Raymond James Stadium lit up the entire area as we walked in later that night. You could sense the focus of our Tigers into the stadium. They were in their white jerseys and orange pants. Those 1981 Championship orange pants. As Alabama scored their 2nd touchdown, going up 14-0, I just nodded. Then my Tigers scored. 14-7. I leaned over to the guy in front of me and said, “I dreamed about this. It’s supposed to be 14-7 and then it’s going to be OK.” I think he thought I was nuts.
Now, I’m not gonna lie; when Alabama scored a field goal in the beginning of the 3rd quarter, I got a little concerned. I didn’t dream about this! But I also watched my Tigers look confident in the first half. They had a rhythm and focus and I had to have confidence. I know some people don’t believe fans’ superstitions affect games and a lot of people don’t believe God cares about football. Probably true. But what there is evidence of is that 1, the energy we put out in the world can impact others, and 2, the crowd’s cheering can affect the players. SO…I kept repeating to the team, “You can do this. You ARE good enough and talented enough to be national champions,” said a little, well, big, prayer that they would know that and play their absolute best, and then I cheered as loud as my lungs would let me.
When we scored the go ahead touchdown, I looked at those around me and kept repeating, “We’re gonna win this! This is gonna happen!” Of course, ‘Bama wasn’t done and scored one more time, putting us behind by a field goal. And then the drive started. I just had a feeling I was watching history. I was sitting in the end zone right above the “N” in Clemson and #4 Deshaun Watson was marching the team right to me. It was crazy cool. I kept hitting people around me, “This is really happening!” And then it did happen. I saw little walk-on, magic hands wide receiver (and tackler) Hunter Renfrow get open RIGHT in front of me and I knew it. He had to feel me from the behind him scream “TOUCHDOWN” before he caught it. OK. He didn’t hear me specifically. But he heard the roar of the crowd, I’m sure.
Of course, the game wasn’t over ‘til it was over. It took an (ironic) onside kick and a victory kneel-down for the game to end. The game wasn’t without a little controversy…Illegal plays? Targeting hits? Uncalled pass interference? Welcome to football. But just like last year’s National Championship between these two teams, it was a GOOD game between two highly talented teams. Just like last year the losing team congratulated the winning team and the fans were gracious. Only this year, my team won. Yay! Go Tigers!
*Side note: Someone asked me if Clemson was a religious school. I was confused and said no, explaining that it’s a state school, named for the family that donated the land for this land-grant school in South Carolina. When I asked why, he commented on the way that the coach and players so openly spoke about their Christian faith. Ah, yes. Clemson remains a place where Christianity is strong and given space to live openly. We even pray before games. What you’ll notice, however, in these prayers is that all expressions of faith are respected. This coach is a strong Christian, and I love that we don’t ask him to deviate from that. I also understand that he respects and gives space for all expressions of faith. I hope that is true.
What is most important is what he said at the end of the game. He said he’d told the players to love each other; that no matter what happened, the most important thing is that they love and respect each other. That comes from Coach Swinney’s faith, but we can all agree that the source of that statement is not nearly as important as the end result. Ellen ends her show very similarly by saying, “Be kind to one another.” If only we would all do that.