The two Alabama-Clemson National Championships have been among college football’s most dramatic showings. The world needs a third round.
Where do we even start? The Alabama fan base is struggling to cope after a situation developed that no one had experienced before. Nick Saban lost a National Championship game. I know – it’s shocking.
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After Bo Scarbrough pounded in his second touchdown to put the Crimson Tide up 14-0, it started to feel like business as usual. The defense held Clemson in check. Deshaun Watson appeared flustered. Basically, it started to feel comfortable.
Alas, the Tigers wouldn’t simply roll over and die. Eventually, Watson, Mike Williams, Hunter Renfrow and company wore down one of the greatest defenses of all time. Clemson won the game when Watson hit Renfrow for a touchdown, leaving just one second on the clock.
That score purged all hope of back-to-back National Championships for Saban and the Tide. While South Carolina was certainly rejoicing, Alabama (minus a little area known as Toomer’s Corner) wept.
After a day to reflect on the game, it’s pretty evident that the world could use more of these Alabama-Clemson type of rivalries. Quite simply, it was football in its purest form – two titans of the sport leaving their hearts on the field. This wasn’t an underdog story. The Tide and the Tigers were undoubtedly the two greatest teams in the country.
I don’t buy the “controversy” following the game. The officiating crew let the kids play all night. Alabama benefitted from some of the non-calls. So did Clemson. It was passion. If you saw Joshua Jacobs pick up a first down by running up the middle on third and long, you already realize, it was art, as well. Seriously, from the play call to the block to the execution – it was perfection. The game was chock full of plays like that one.
Where we are today started two years ago. Alabama lost to Ohio State in the inaugural College Football Playoff in heartbreaking fashion. Pundits claimed the Alabama dynasty was over, the magic of Saban had worn off, and the Tide was starting to regress. For Clemson, questions were swirling about whether this team could ever actually win the big one or not.
When the two teams ended up in Arizona last year, both had plenty to prove. Alabama was out to remind the country of who they were. Clemson, finally in a position to win a National Championship, wanted to prove it belonged among the nation’s elite.
What followed was a classic battle. Tied well into the fourth quarter, it took 21 points in the final ten minutes for Alabama to eek out the win, 45-40. O.J. Howard posted 208 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Derrick Henry rumbled for 158 yards and three touchdowns. Watson hung 405 yards and four touchdowns on the vaunted Crimson Tide defense. Hunter Renfrow did Hunter Renfrow things and caught two of those four touchdowns. Nonetheless, Alabama was able to re-establish itself as college football’s king.
That game fueled a narrative of revenge for Clemson for all of 2016. Clemson had the opportunity to exact revenge and capitalized on it. There might not be a more competitive re-match in college football history. It was the best possible thing that could happen for college football.
But, the football aspect is only one facet of what makes this great. There’s also the tremendous respect between these two teams that feeds its legendary aura. Alabama defensive backs were helping Watson up after big hits. Cam Robinson sought out Watson, actually interrupted his postgame interview, to give him a handshake and offer a “hell of a game.” Saban was filmed roaming the field for an awkwardly long amount of time trying to find, and congratulate, Dabo Swinney.
In two years, in two championship battles, one point separates Alabama and Clemson. One point. That’s absurd. I’m not sure who “they” are, but I’m confident that “they” will write books about this rivalry one day. For now, let’s just hope for Round Three.