I knew all of this was coming. I knew it the second that Curtis Baham was tackled three yards short of the goal line in Winston Salem. I knew it back in 2001 when Clemson lost a 20-15 game to rival South Carolina. I knew it back in January of 1990 when Frank Howard tried to calm the furor that was the Clemson Nation as we “welcomed” Ken Hatfield to Clemson. And I knew it back in 1985 when Clemson stumbled and bumbled their way to a 6-6 season.
I guess you could say I have known it for a long, long time.
This stuff has been a long time brewing and, unfortunately, never going to go away.
The stuff I speak of is Clemson fans and our warped sense of reality. We have a warped sense of reality not because of lack of intelligence. It is simply because of a bar that has been raised beyond the grasp of most mortal teams and programs.
That bar, raised in 1981 when Clemson won the National Championship, has been the standard going on 25 years now. And there is nothing wrong with having those grand expectations, because it is those expectations that make great programs. Expectations are what drive good things to become great.
But there is certainly a sense of defeatism amongst the ranks every single time that bar slips out of reach during the season. That defeatism reared its head in 1986 when the Tigers lost to N.C. State on a rainy day in Raleigh. That defeatism was apparent the next year in Clemson when the Tigers fell behind State 30-0 at halftime before a crazy comeback fell short. It was also apparent in 1989 when Clemson went to Durham and lost to Duke.
And it has happened all through the 1990’s under Ken Hatfield and under Tommy West. And it most certainly has continued under Tommy Bowden.
We seem to get a bit ornery every fall when it becomes apparent, by results on the field, that Clemson is not going to have a “special” season. We lose, and then we proceed to cuss and gripe and moan and groan to the point of exhaustion. It has become easier and more popular in this day and age with the Internet, but that defeatism has been at Clemson for 25 years running.
So why do our fans find it necessary to drown out a football season amid complaints, even if that season is in the very early stages with tons of promise still within grasp? Is there something wrong with our reality? Something wrong with the way we perceive our reality?
Those answers are too great to be answered by me, for sure. What I do know, feel, and believe is that our reality forbids us from taking pleasure from an otherwise pleasurable experience.
College football, and Clemson football in particular, should be fun. If you asked any true Clemson fan to evaluate the experience of going to a game while taking the results of the game out of the equation, the evaluation would be off the charts positive.
Once you throw the game into the equation, the evaluation plummets after a loss regardless of everything else from that day that might have been enjoyable about the experience.
And why is it that we accept that torturous feeling, and then feed it by continuing the griping days and weeks after the results have been tallied?
Our reality as fans is so clouded with tunnel vision directed at the scoreboard that we forget that things all around the program are good. That tunnel vision also gives us amnesia, as we think that none of these complaints happened 20 years ago when Coach Ford roamed the sidelines.
The same people that thought all games were sold out in Death Valley during the 1980’s are the same people that swear a bad word was never said about our coaching staff during the 1980’s. Of course, those people are dead wrong. But amnesia wipes the slate clean, and if you try hard enough you can wipe out any negative from the past as time goes by.
So why can’t we just drop it? Why can’t we just go through a football season and talk football and X’s and O’s and celebrate the wins and bemoan the losses WITHOUT trying to get into the hiring and firing of coaches?
Why is it that every loss to a team WE don’t consider worth a darn must there immediately be talk of a future without this coaching staff?
The “why” lies directly in our shifty reality. Our reality precludes us from enjoying the simple pleasures this football team, and every football team, gives us. We want so badly to find the perfect coach that we waste away season after season with inane debate about something most of us have little or no control over.
And it is a shame. But it is our reality.
It is the same reality that ever major football program that has reached that pinnacle has. Having said that, there are a few (very few) programs that walk on water. There are only a few programs that win despite themselves and win almost every year. They are called elite programs.
Clemson is not an elite program. Saying it does not make it so. And it isn’t so no matter what type of buildings you build or fundraising organizations you have or people you hire. We weren’t an elite program in the 1980’s either. We were outsiders crashing the party, and we did it quite well for a few years. But party crashers we were, elite we were not.
So we now judge ourselves by the realties of Florida State, Ohio State, Texas, Oklahoma, and Southern California. Never mind the fact that those programs are so unlike Clemson that it is like comparing night to day. It does not matter to our fans.
We want greatness. We want perfection. And we want them both all of the time.
And it simply is not going to happen like we want it to. It is not a reality that we can legitimately expect.
Does that mean we should accept and rejoice in mediocrity? No. The University of South Carolina has the market cornered in this state on rewarding mediocrity and look where that has gotten them. But you have to understand your reality to some degree or you will waltz through life miserable almost all of the time.
I like the analogy of the World Series of Poker. All of those players know the game of poker like the back of their hand. They understand the strategies of the game and the strategies of reading other players and the strategies of knowing when to take a risk and when not to.
But there are poker players that win more than others and there are certain players that seem to win all of the time. There is an element to the game of poker that borders on destiny and, for lack of a better word, depends on luck.
Some players have it, others do not.
Coach Tommy Bowden knows football and he understands the X’s and O’s and what it takes to put a great football team on the field. At some point, however, you have to catch a few breaks if you are going to move from a good football program to a great program. Some of those breaks are things you can control to some degree. Many of those breaks are completely out of your control.
And Coach Bowden can’t catch a break if it were standing in front of him tied to a tree. If you believe in destiny, you may assume that Coach Bowden is not destined to be ultra successful at Clemson because every single turn in the road he takes seems to be the wrong one. Or maybe you believe part of Coach Bowden’s destiny at Clemson lies in overcoming great odds and bad breaks to build something special.
Either way, our fan’s reality won’t shift to allow flexibility to that. Our fans, regardless of everything that surrounds our program that is good, simply watch and wait until the next loss comes so they can let Coach Bowden know this his performance is not good enough for Clemson.
We are five games into a season. We lost to Wake Forest, which is never an acceptable thing in my opinion. But it is just five games, regardless of how you break it down.
Some fans this week have taken it upon themselves to start the “We need a new coach” bandwagon. Yes, this bandwagon has been started before. It was started when Coach Ford was here, grew larger under Coach Hatfield, downsized a bit under Coach West, and grew again under Coach Bowden.
That bandwagon was built by a reality that some perceive this football program is, or at the very least, should be.
We never consider facing the reality head on and confronting whether or not it is a fair or a just reality. Our fans are downright stubborn, to a fault.
And while we ignore the reality, we take the time to have the bandwagons fueled up and ready to be loaded. And the line for tickets is long after every single loss.
And it gets old to those of us that try and see a bigger picture. It gets old for us that enjoy the experience of Clemson football. It gets old to those of us that can put Clemson football in perspective with the rest of our lives.
My reality for this program may be different from yours. My reality may be different than Coach Bowden’s.
But I, for one, will not waste away a wonderful football season that we miss the minute it is over worrying about things that are beyond my control. Knowing whether Coach Bowden is the best fit for Clemson University is way beyond anything that I can understand or make intelligent remarks about. It is way bigger than me and what I can process.
And it is beyond you as well. And it is too big for you to process as well.
Reality bites. So enjoy the football season. It is wasting away while you scurry for coaching answers that you are not qualified to make and will never find clarity with.
Scott Rhymer covers Clemson as the Co-Host of the Tiger Pre Game Show on WCCP 104.9 FM. The show airs live game days on 104.9 FM in the upstate or via the web at www.wccpfm.com