Awash in an afterglow of high fives and good feelings, Clemson fans that made the trek on a Thursday night to the middle of Tobacco Road left feeling downright good about their football team.
Or did they?
Thousands of Tiger fans who could not make it to Raleigh for the game rejoiced while watching Clemson destroy State on televisions in their homes or at bars all across the state and the nation.
Or did they?
Clemson did what Coach Tommy Bowden thought they might, turning the misfortune of three straight heartbreaking losses into motivation to whip a team that many had picked ahead of Clemson in the preseason conference polls.
Clemson also did, or at least started to do, what they had the previous two years in revving up the engines for a powerful stretch run at the end of the season.
Unfortunately, none of that matters to some of Clemson’s most vocal supporters who had written off the season after the Wake loss. Those disgruntled supporters, you see, cannot find any value in a season where Clemson loses to Wake Forest.
Forget for a moment that Wake is a pretty decent team, having taken Florida State and Boston College to the 4th quarter on their respective home fields.
Forget for a moment that the Clemson offense, improved in just about every statistical category compared to 2004, had taken a giant leap forward in Winston Salem only to be defined by one series where they could not get a game clinching first down.
Forget for a moment that the Clemson defense, save two disastrous missed assignments in the secondary, shut down a Wake Forest offense that had made Tiger defenses look silly for the past four years.
Forget for a moment that Rob Spence, in just his sixth game as offensive coordinator at Clemson, employs more formations in one game than Tiger offenses of the past few years employed in an entire season.
Forget for a moment that Vic Koenning, also just in his sixth game, has made great in-game adjustments the past three weeks that have held opponents to an average of 5 points per game in the second half.
Forget for a moment that this team has literally played every one of their games down to the wire minus the win at State, emotionally tugging at the very fabric that can keep a team glued together.
Forget for a moment that this is, by far, the most difficult schedule in the history of Clemson football.
Forget all of those things. Forget them because Clemson University lost to Wake Forest University two weeks ago. Compounding the reasons you should forget all of those positives, they say, is that Clemson had the gall to lose to Wake Forest in 2003 and Duke in 2004.
You see, those bad losses override everything else that is positive in some folk’s mind. They have every right to their opinion, and they certainly have a band of folks that believe similarly to what they believe in. I just happen to disagree and I think I am not alone in those thoughts.
I said last week that Clemson is more talented than Wake Forest or Duke and, at least on paper, should not lose to those teams. I think you can make a very valid argument that Clemson was out-coached against Wake and certainly out-coached by Duke in 2004. I also have said repeatedly, however, that three games in three years should not define a program one way or another.
By that token, in the same breath you could say that Clemson is not as talented as Florida State, Miami, or Tennessee either. Yet Coach Bowden and Clemson won those games. So, in essence, Clemson’s staff out-coached Bobby Bowden, Philip Fulmer and Larry Coker. And likewise, I don’t think a program can be defined by those big wins alone.
There just seems to be a single mindedness among our great fans when it comes to these losses to teams that are not as talented as Clemson is. If there ever was a margin of error when it came to losing those games, Coach Bowden has used up all his “Get our of jail free” cards over the course of the past two and a half seasons with certain factions of our fan base.
And I have to admit that the ugly losses are wearing thin on even the heartiest Bowden supporters, and they are certainly wearing thin on me.
But instead of seeing a bigger picture, some of our fans choose to tunnel vision a season into one or two games. It is unfair, and in my opinion wrong. But they do it anyway. Many wrote the entire season off with the loss to Wake. Period.
One of those fans sat behind me in Raleigh. Up 28-7, this guy had the gall to complain about an offensive play call on a 2nd down. After blabbering about how pitiful Spence and Bowden are, he then proceeded to tell everybody within ear shot that it was play calling like what he just witnessed that was the reason for our loss in Winston Salem.
That guy is beyond help. He jumped off the bandwagon and is not getting back on. He may have jumped in 2003 when Clemson lost to Wake, or 2004 at Duke. Or maybe he just recently jumped off, having had enough of the emotional roller coaster this team can take us all on.
But he is off, and beating the crud out of North Carolina State on national television is not enough to bring him back into the fold. He won’t come back even if Clemson somehow wins the rest of the games this season.
And that is a shame. Not for our team or our coaches, as they have long since learned how to tune out the people who shoot the bullets. It is also not a shame for the majority of Clemson fans that pull for the team to win and believe things are heading in the right direction, even when there are selected weeks where there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.
The people I feel sorry for are those that don’t like Coach Bowden and never will. If he wins 7, it should have been 8. If he wins 9, it should have been 10. If he wins a National Championship, he should win multiple ones.
Those fans are going to be miserable no matter what happens as long as we have Coach Bowden as our coach. Chalk it up as a personality conflict or a philosophical conflict or simply that Coach Bowden is not who they want him to be. Or maybe it is as simple as he lost to Duke and Wake Forest.
I guess we should just let those fans sulk and moan and groan and let them continue to tell anyone that will listen why losing to Wake Forest is reason enough to part ways with a coach at season’s end.
Most of us want to believe that Coach Bowden is leading our team to a National Championship or a Conference Championship in the near future. Of course, we all have our doubts, especially considering the ups and downs that seem to follow these teams. My crystal ball is as clear as mud when it come to this program right now and whether we will win championships under Bowden. For that matter, I don’t know if there is anybody on the face of this planet that can lead us to those championships we all want so badly.
But I do feel certain that losing to Wake is not the end of the world for our team or our coaches. I think that was proven last Thursday night. And I think it has been proven the past two years.
Some just don’t want to believe it. And never will.
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.