Backyard football: Who will be ahead when momma calls you in for supper?
|Thursday, January 3, 2019, 8:40 AM- -|
The national media rolled into Clemson Wednesday morning, looking for quotes and sound ahead of next Monday’s National Championship game against Alabama. They got plenty of quotes and plenty of sound bites but left without any discernible locker room material.
Clemson’s starting lineup was full of compliments for the top-ranked Crimson Tide – as they should be – and while there were a few players that indicated they’ve wanted to play Alabama since last year’s Sugar Bowl loss, you could tell that this team is more focused on themselves than the Tide.
I walked into Clemson’s defensive locker room following the win over Notre Dame, and it didn’t take any time to figure out that the older members of the team were already dialing in on the title game. The game between Alabama and Oklahoma wasn’t over, but they didn’t care.
“It’s about putting our four best quarters of the season together next Monday,” was the common refrain.
Head coach Dabo Swinney has done a fantastic job of making sure this team takes it one game at a time, something you could see more than ever this season. This team walked out on the field and beat everyone in their path, and while it wasn’t always perfect (Syracuse, South Carolina) and it wasn’t always pretty (Texas A&M), they’ve gotten to this point with an undefeated record.
This team has been building for this – this one game – all season. They’ve been coached and prepared and taught to be at their best Monday night.
I spoke with offensive lineman Sean Pollard at the media day in Arlington last week and asked if he attended Wednesday night’s Dallas Mavericks game. His answer? No. Too much film study to do, too much work to do.
That led me to ask around, and I’ve heard that the player shuttles from the team hotel to spots around Dallas were mostly empty. Yes, there were times when players got out and did things, but most of the sight-seeing was done by walk-ons and scout team players, a far cry from the French Quarter of a year ago.
The Cotton Bowl itself? Amazing. Best bowl I’ve covered and it’s not really close. One of the media gifts was a sweet Cotton Bowl laptop bag, a nice set of Bluetooth earbuds, and a shirt and a hat. They also threw in a couple of Mavericks-Pelicans tickets and a concert by Lady Antebellum Friday night.
They do everything the right way, and from talking to the players, coaches, and staff on the team, it was the same way for them. The Cotton Bowl simply excels at everything. Heck, things were so good even country music legend George Strait showed up during pregame wearing a Clemson pullover. Strait is a friend of former Clemson quarterback Rodney Williams and sat in Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones’ box during the game.
It was the best week from beginning to end.
That brings us to Monday. My friends have started to text and email me and send me Facebook messages, wanting some kind of insight into what might happen. Here is what I see happening:
It’s gonna be a brawl. A backyard fight. Remember when you were a kid and you played tackle football in the yard? You got scratched and poked and you bled from a thousand cuts and you loved every second of it? And then you got popped in the nose and you felt tough? It's gonna be like that.
I was around Clemson earlier Wednesday, and they are not pumped up and wild. They are focused. For them, it's all about playing their best four quarters next Monday.
It will still be daylight out there when the game kicks off, and just like when you were a kid and you played under the street lights, the night will take effect and the lights will turn on and two teams full of great athletes will start throwing haymakers at each other. You'll be able to see your breath as both squads scratch and claw and fight down to the bitter end.
Who will be ahead when momma calls you in for supper? The winner of backyard football was usually the one with the most battle scars, and this won’t be much different. This game, much like the feeling I had before the 2016 game, just has that feeling. This is going to be fun.
And I can’t wait.