The Road Is Never Remembered As Much As The Destination
By Scott Rhymer
This off-season, at least for me, was a watershed moment in my history with our Clemson Tigers. After years of making excuses under Ken Hatfield, Tommy West, Tommy Bowden, and Dabo Swinney for why we were not winning ACC Championships, I determined that I’d had enough.
You can say what you want about folks like me, fans that had seen Clemson as the premier team in the ACC and winning ACC Championships in bunches from the late 1970’s through the late 1980’s. Maybe we were spoiled. Maybe we began to feel a sense of entitlement. And maybe we did not appreciate what we had.
But for the 19 years after that last ACC Championship, Clemson Nation grappled with trying to understand how to handle not winning titles. As a group, we have gone through all the cycles of grief when dealing with a football program that fell from the most prominent in our conference to an afterthought. We had anger, fear, frustration, hope, and disappointment in just about all shapes and forms for 19 years.
So this off-season, I simply decided that I was tired of justifying why we were not winning titles and simply decided that winning this conference must be a clear and streamlined goal. Winning an ACC Championship became an expectation that would be met with disappointment if it could not be achieved.
Below is a link to a blog I wrote this summer summarizing where I stood and where I think many of you in Clemson Nation stood:
So as the final seconds ticked down Saturday night I must admit that it was an emotional experience for some of us that love Clemson so much but had believed that we should be more relevant in this conference if we wanted to consider the season a success. I guess you could say the final seconds provided a satisfaction that I had not felt for this program in a long time. Satisfaction in accomplishing a goal that should be a cornerstone for this program.
Some of you today still feel that the ride was too bumpy along the way, deflating your happiness and pride in the championship to some degree. I saw posts Sunday on the Internet and blogs by certain web sites that had a hard time accepting the good fortune of winning the ACC because of the bumps that were provided along the way, especially in the final few weeks of the season.
And that is a shame.
20 years from now, there will be a flag flying in Death Valley noting the 2011 ACC Championship and these players will be in their 40’s coming back to Clemson for reunions. There will be memories of this team, the players, and the coaches. You will note where you were when we won the title and you will remember the loved ones who were with you Saturday but who are not longer with you 20 years from now. Time provides points of reflection, or snapshots of a great time gone by.
The bumps on the road might not fade away completely, but those bumps won’t be a integral part of the lore of the 2011 season when we reflect back on it in 20 years.
I know that because I see how I reflect now on the four previous ACC Championship teams. Granted, I am a bit of a Clemson history buff, so I remember games and moments more vividly than some of you and I probably use more brain power in remembering those moments than I should! But when I look back on the 1986, 1987, 1988, and 1991 teams I don’t look back in angst because of the bumps in the road. And each of those years had bumps. What I remember of those teams, and those eras, are the great moments of those season and the singular fact that these were championship teams. But those seasons had head scratching moments just like the 2011 team, even if we don’t remember those moments in such a negative light today.
In 1986, Clemson opened the season with a home loss to Virginia Tech, got blown out in Raleigh against NC State, and tied Maryland and South Carolina in back to back weeks to finish the regular season.
The 1987 team blew a chance for a second National Championship by falling behind a bad NC State team 30-0 in Death Valley before losing 30-28. The ‘87 team was also whipped handily in Columbia later in the year, 20-7.
The 1988 team lost to Florida State at home in a game remembered as the “Puntrooskie”. You probably remembered that loss, but did you also know that Clemson lost at home later in the year to NC State, 10-3?
And the 1991 team was whipped by Georgia in Athens, tied Virginia when the Cavs were still “white meat”, and was blown out by California in a bowl game.
The only Clemson team that can go without criticism, for obvious reasons, is the 1981 team that not only won all of their games but never had a major letdown during the season. And that is why 1981 is remembered as a magical year that stands alone as the greatest season in Clemson football history.
Winning ACC Championships creates memories frozen in time and washes away some of the bumps that were taken along the way. And I feel certain that the 2011 season and team will be judged equally in that light as time goes by.
Clemson was clearly the best team in the ACC this year. The Tigers went 4-1 in the Atlantic that allowed us to wrap up the division three weeks before the end of the season. Virginia Tech was clearly the class of the Coastal Division, going 5-0 in the Coastal in route to earning their title berth. Clemson whipped the Hokies twice, once in their house and once in the title game.
This 2011 ACC Championship by Clemson is as close to unanimous as you can get. There is no doubt. No other team can say they “should” have been where Clemson is today. No other team can say they are the best ACC team but simply were a victim of scheduling or officiating or a bad break. All other programs in the ACC clearly take a back seat to the 2011 Clemson Tigers.
And that destination is what should, and I believe will, be remembered as time goes by. This destination will leave the bumps in the road along the way as afterthoughts to a bigger picture.
I certainly don’t want to devalue losing to South Carolina. Losing three years in a row to the Gamecocks is unacceptable and needs to change. But the state championship is a clear goal, posted prominently throughout the West Endzone and locker room areas. I’m not sure any more value can be placed on beating the Gamecocks that already is, so it simply comes down to results on the field.
But beating South Carolina is something we have done many times in the last 20 years. And you don’t fly flags in the stadium for beating the Gamecocks. If so, our stadium would be in a perpetual shadow as flags would be attached to every section of the stadium facade.
Winning championships should take precedence, and certainly will last longer in the thoughts and minds of our fans.
That is the way it should be. When you make demands as a fan that winning a championship needs to happen because it has been too long, you can’t then go back and put an asterisk on it when they accomplish that goal. All of us would have taken a 2011 ACC Championship back in August with no regard for how we got there. So now that you have it, you can’t go back and say you are upset with the manner in which the goal was achieved.
You can’t knock the road if it took you to your destination. And if you can’t enjoy the fruits of that accomplishment without bemoaning the bumps, college football might not be the best hobby for you.
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