I expect it to be one heck of a national college football championship game when the Tigers take the field in New Orleans Monday night.
Yes, in one heck of a turn, both of these talented teams that were able to reach this title contest with identical records of 14-0 also have the same nickname.
I will be cheering for the Tigers from Clemson to upset the Tigers from Louisiana State University. I know this in my gut.
This slightly puzzles me, considering how long and deep a dislike for Clemson ran in my brain, back to the days when I was a student at the University of Maryland and those Tigers stood in the way of my school’s Terrapins on our football field at Byrd Stadium and down their in what they call Death Valley in Clemson, S.C.
That fierce Atlantic Coast Conference rivalry stood after my graduation.
The two teams were close at the top of our league, you betcha, that that fall day when my close friends George and Laura scheduled their wedding for the day Maryland and Clemson were to do battle. Talk about love and hate! I talked about smuggling my small black-and-white portable TV into a back room of the reception hall. Laura nixed that one. I was in the wedding party, so I listened to the bride. Our roommate Matty, though, somehow got a small TV into the facility. Yes, even George snuck a moment or two to catch some of the game. Laura was not thrilled. But she was a Terp, too. And it was Maryland-Clemson …
So Clemson managed to win a national championship under coach Danny Ford In 1981. Maryland got good under Bobby Ross in the ‘80s and Ralph Friedgen in the 90s, but not that good.
My dislike for Clemson double-downed, even as I moved to Syracuse and the decades went on, and I attended more of Syracuse’s Big East games live and watched Maryland games on TV when I could.
Lo-and-behold, Syracuse joined the ACC this decade. I already had a favorite rival. Clemson would come to the Carrier Dome every other season for my dear wife Karen and I to cheer against from our season ticket seats.
Amd Syracuse under this coach, Dino Babers, upset Clemson one Friday night in the Carrier Dome, a glorious game indeed as coach Dabo Swinney has his Tigers firmly in the national playoff chase annually. The Orange even almost upset Clemson the next season down there in Death Vallley in 2018, Syracuse’s rebirth 10-win campaign.
Clemson, though, won national championships under Swinney in 2016 and 2018. Tomorrow night the Tigers go for their dynasty-making third.
I watch their interviews after their wins, and they win me over. Humble. Respectful. Polite, even. And, oh, how they play. They’ll be underdogs, having entered this playoff ranked third to the others Tigers’ No. 1. I’ll be rooting for Clemson, from the Atlantic Coast Conference, to beat LSU. Surprising even myself.