As halftime approached last Saturday night, I decided not to take my traditional march out into my Lot 2 parking spot to meet back up with friends and family to discuss the first half highlights and lowlights.
For the first time in a long time, I stayed inside Memorial Stadium. I walked down from my seat, onto Frank Howard Field, and circled slowly around. I soaked up the beautiful halftime performance and tribute by Tiger Band for Military Appreciation Day. But mostly, I sulked.
I?m sure that I have been more embarrassed about a half a football than I was last Saturday night. In fact, as I type this, I can think of several off the top of my head. So to be safe, I won?t say this past Saturday was the most embarrassing display of football that I?ve seen Clemson play. But it sure is near the top.
After the final of my three ?laps? around Frank Howard Field, I stood directly in the tunnel of the West Endzone and waited patiently for the team and coaches to come out of the locker room. I must admit, my intentions in that moment were not admirable. I waited, not to offer encouragement to the players or coaches. I waited, quite honestly, to see a bunch of players and coaches that had thrown in the towel and given up. I waited to see a lifeless team with lifeless coaches simmer out of the bowels of the West Endzone to go through the motions of what was a truly futile effort to rebound in this single game.
I just knew that I would see something that would give me plenty to write about in my next article on Tigernet. And that is exactly what happened. But not in the way that I had assumed.
Instead of dejection and defection, I saw players come out of the locker room with pride. I saw players come out with pats on each other?s helmets and words of encouragement. I saw coaches come out still coaching players?not by cursing or yelling?but by teaching. And the 2nd half rolled on with a team of coaches working hard and a team of players playing their guts out to no avail. But playing their guts out nonetheless.
I?m not here to put lipstick on a pig. Saturday was ugly. This season has turned ugly. I?m frustrated and disappointed and bewildered all at the same time. I?m sure that?s not too far off from where many of you are at. Although in August I wrote here on Tigernet that we would go 10-2 in the regular season and lose to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech in back to back weeks, my prophecy today seems so far off. Not because of the losses, but because of the manner in which those losses took place.
But let?s get a few things straight on where we stand. Let?s get a few things straight on what it?s all about.
It?s not about the media opinion journalists from this state and beyond that will spend the next two weeks (and possibly the remainder of the year) telling you how crazed a fan base you are as if that were some negative. Media folks, by and large, are about as far removed from the reality of what college football means and, maybe more importantly, what Clemson football means, as they could possibly be. They don?t understand passion. They don?t understand legacy. They don?t understand loyalty. All of which you have, even though those traits are sometimes misguided in the heat of the moment. The media does not get that because they don?t understand that passion. The media only understand prose and how it can be used to sell their product.
It?s not about Tommy Bowden or Rob Spence or Vic Koenning. Coaches come and go, some by their own doing and others by outside doings. Clemson University will still be playing football long after all of our coaches are in the grave with you and me. The definition of Clemson University, even the Clemson football program, is not about Tommy Bowden or any other coach on this staff. There may be no more waste of time in the history of athletics than fans and media debating the merits of a coach during a season. It?s fruitless garbage to pass the time instead of working at your job selling widgets and gidgets. Tommy Bowden will coach, as he should, for the rest of this year. The mere effort in debating that is a waste beyond explanation. But the biggest waste of effort would be to debate who will be the next coach of Clemson when there are games left to be played on the schedule THIS year with THIS staff.
It?s not about CJ Spiller or James Davis or Cullen Harper or Willy Korn. Players, just like coaches, come and go. I?m sure there are a bunch of players on Clemson?s roster that feel like they could do a better job at their position than the guy in front of them on the roster. I?m sure the same could be said for other players on other teams around this nation. Heck, you are sitting at your job right now and you think you could do a better job than your boss if given the opportunity. The truth with you, just like the players, is maybe you can and maybe you can?t. The people you want on your team are the ones that believe they can help. I don?t want players sitting on the sideline believing they are not good enough to play. That?s a wasted scholarship if you ask me. So if you hear a player grumble about not playing, he?s doing exactly what I would expect him to do, assuming he is busting his rear end in practice to try and earn that spot on the field.
And this is most certainly not about trying to dissect a press conference, a quote, a single play, or an entire weekly game plan. Anybody who spends time trying to psycho-analyze what Tommy Bowden says to the media is truly letting precious seconds of their life fizzle away for absolutely no reason or point. Bowden dislikes the media. The media guys treat Bowden as a pawn for their pleasure. The mere fact that Bowden shows up to listen to the inane questions week in and week out is amazing to me. The mere fact that many of you hang onto every syllable of how Bowden answers those questions is sad. You feed the media?s craving for scoop by deliberating every word of every quote as if you are truly going to discover some magic nugget of truth to why something happened the way it did in that particular football game. And for what?
So what, exactly, is it about? I?m not sure I could have answered that midway through the 2nd quarter last Saturday as I sulked in the stands just like many of you. But there was a clear perspective lost as I sat in the stands on Saturday during the first half that I regained as I walked on the field during halftime with my head down. I could reach out and touch that perspective.
All football seasons are like a marathon that we agonize over every single mile of the race. We win, we look towards next week. We lose and we search for answers and contemplate life with a new football coach.
All the while, everything that is truly important passes you by. In your mind the world has stopped spinning when in reality the world is still spinning but you choose to focus on one object.
I have an opinion about what this football team might do down the stretch. I have an opinion about what players could play instead of others that might help make us a better team. I have an opinion about whether our coaches have any idea what they are doing with special teams.
I also have an opinion of Tommy Bowden and whether he should remain at Clemson as our head coach.
I?m sure you have all of those opinions as well. In fact, you have stated them loud and clear and over and over on message boards and talk radio. The difference is perspective. What this is all about is simply that some of you are going to waste your breath by shutting down on this coaching staff and this team, and in the meantime you are going to miss what is left of the 2007 football season.
Some things are out of my control. Some things are out of your control. Some things are out of Tommy Bowden?s control.
So stop trying to control it. This hand will play out in due time. We are not in a state of flux, regardless of what many of you feel and what others are writing in the newspapers and verbalizing on talk radio. We are still moving, either up or down, depending on your perspective. Simply put?we will get better as the season goes on or we won?t. You can?t be in year nine of a program and get by with average. I know that. You know that. Tommy Bowden knows that. Terry Don Phillips knows that.
Our players and coaches did not give up at halftime on Saturday night. This season starts its 2nd half when Central Michigan comes to town. I?ll wake up at 4:30 a.m. and head to Littlejohn to broadcast our Pregame Show on a Homecoming weekend. Six days later I?ll hop on a plane that will be almost completely full of Clemson fans and head to Maryland to watch our Tigers play. Seven days later I?ll travel to Durham to watch a football game with our Tigers in the most pitiful college football stadium in America. Seven days later I?ll be back in Clemson watching us play the defending ACC Champions. Seven days after that I?ll be back in Clemson watching us play at top ten football team in Boston College.
I?ll then eat plenty of turkey on Thanksgiving Day and head to Columbia the following Saturday for the greatest football rivalry in the nation.
And I?ll do all of that hoping that the light comes on and the breaks fall our way. You can do the same. Or you can type on a keyboard and call the talk shows and offer all the wisdom in the world to anybody that will read and listen. All the while the world will keep spinning and the people that really have control of this situation will do their job ambivalent to your ?public? input.
What?s it all about? It?s about perspective. I?m not saying that you have handled this situation wrong. We have great fans that are passionate about our football program and you were rightfully embarrassed the last two weeks.
My point is that some of your efforts seem so wasted to me. The season and the games in front of us are more important at this time, at least to me. Don?t miss what is right in front of you. We may lose a bunch more or win a bunch more, I just don?t know for sure right now. But I know it will be worth it to watch and support one way or another.
Go Tigers. I?m with you (players and coaches) to the end. Whenever that end may be.