CMM: Three-sport star, program-changing QB meet in final


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McFadden lettered in three sports, earning All-American honors in football and basketball with his jersey number retired in each.
McFadden lettered in three sports, earning All-American honors in football and basketball with his jersey number retired in each.

TigerNet’s version of March Madness has its championship battle set, using our extra time at home now to recognize the accomplishments of the top competitors in Clemson athletics history.

This exercise measures the top performances while a collegiate athlete and is meant to be a fun celebration of Clemson athletes across the decades.

This competition’s Mount Rushmore of Clemson athletes had three all-gridiron stars and two current players with Travis Etienne, Trevor Lawrence and Deshaun Watson and then three-sport maven Banks McFadden. Watson eased into the title bout from there, while a strong effort on social media from Lawrence fell short against McFadden.

Here's the full Clemson March Madness bracket:

Click here or on the image for larger view

Examine the profiles for your pick of this elite pairing of Tigers and vote below (Voting deadline at 10 a.m. on 4/6)!

Clemson March Madness Championship

McFadden profile

Played: 1936-39

* Two-time All-American in basketball (1938-39) and Clemson’s first AP All-American for football (1939). McFadden helped lead the Tigers to the school’s only conference tournament victory (1939, SoCon) and the program’s first bowl win (Cotton Bowl, 1940).

* AP athlete of the year for 1939 and earned three letters out of basketball, football and track from 1936-39. College Football Hall of Fame member.

* No. 4 overall pick from the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers, which ties Clelin Ferrell, Gaines Adams and Sammy Watkins for the highest-drafted Clemson football players. Still holds the Clemson season record in punts of 50-plus yards (22) and the longest rush in school history (90 yards; tied by Travis Etienne in 2019).

Watson profile

Played: 2014-2016

* Two-time winner of the Manning and Davey O’Brien awards (nation’s top QB) and also national player of the year in 2016 (Chic Harley Award) and national MVP in 2015 (Archie Griffin Award), as well as a finalist for the Walter Camp and Heisman trophies.

* Left Clemson third in ACC history in total offense (12,094) and also first in Clemson history in career completion percentage (.674), passing efficiency (157.5) and total offense per game (318.3) over just three seasons (including the most total offensive yards in a Clemson game with 588 vs. Pittsburgh in 2016).

* Tossed 16 passing touchdowns to only two interceptions in the fourth quarter, including a last-second TD connection to Hunter Renfrow against Alabama in the 2016 season to secure Clemson’s first national title since 1981. He tied Rodney Williams and Tajh Boyd for the most wins as a Tigers starting QB in that game (32).

Assessing the matchup (TigerNet staff analysis)

* "No slight to Deshaun Watson, who I think is the best athlete in modern Clemson athletics, but there's a reason the name McFadden can be found all over Clemson Athletic District. No, he didn't win a national title, but he led Clemson to its first bowl win and is still found in the Clemson record book over 80 years later. As an AP Athlete of the Year, College Football Hall of Fame member and three-sport letterman, Banks McFadden stands above the rest."

* "I like to think I understand Clemson sports history, and that means I like to think I understand the place that Banks McFadden occupies in its lore. Banks was a true gentleman, a superstar, a veteran who led Clemson to places it had never been. His place is cemented, But when I talk to recruits these days, they don't mention Banks. They all, and I do mean all, mention Deshaun Watson. Watson is the biggest and brightest superstar in the age of social media. Head coach Dabo Swinney needed someone to take the program to the next level - from good to great - and a shy kid from Gainesville walked through the door with the quiet swagger of a champion. He beat South Carolina on one leg. He put up incredible numbers and almost beat Alabama his second year, and only a lapse on special teams and the selfishness of some of his defensive teammates kept him from winning a championship that year.

"He should have won the Heisman a year later but the voters were more concerned with the goal-line leap of Lamar Jackson in September to pay attention to true greatness, I saw the look on his face that night in New York, and I wrote then that Ohio State (and later Alabama) had better watch out. He made them all pay with performances for the ages, There have been a lot of great football players tread the Clemson campus, but as I wrote before, if I have one game I have to win, DW4 is my first pick and it's a no-brainer."

* "Watson beating South Carolina on a torn ACL and his last-second pass to win the natty was legendary stuff."

* “McFadden is just an athlete unicorn in the pantheon of college sports, period. You won’t see many two-sport, much less three-sport athletes going forward with more specialization going on -- and to have excelled like he did to garner All-American honors on the gridiron and the hardwood sets him apart. That said, I can’t fault a Watson pick just because he symbolized the shift from a very-good football program to an elite football program with two title-game runs and a first national championship since 1981. He was (and is in the pros now) a special player.”

Tournament road: McFadden won out in a battle of past vs. present legends with Trevor Lawrence in the Final Four. The multi-sport All-American moved into the Final Four over national player of the year and multi-Clemson-record-holder Khalil Greene and to the Elite 8 in a battle with 1980s All-American Michael Dean Perry. He advanced past 2016 title-game hero Hunter Renfrow in the first round and then fellow Dabo era legend Christian Wilkins in the second round. Watson continued to cruise his way to the championship by overcoming Clemson all-time leading rusher and two-time ACC player of the year Travis Etienne. He moved on to the Sweet 16 versus All-American and three-time All-ACC team member Brian Dawkins and topped Clemson’s first three-time All-American in William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry in the Elite 8. Watson had the widest margin of victory in the first round against two-time All-American and four-time first-team All-ACC golfer Jonathan Byrd.

TigerNet staff vote: 60% Watson

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