An Up and a Down in the Palmetto State

Imagine. All those football games began on fields like this one. (Monte Dutton sketch)

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, January 2, 2018, 12:22 p.m.

In the aftermath of the New Year’s football games, my principal feeling when I got up this morning was bonhomie for the recently suffering South Carolina fans. The Gamecocks came from behind to beat Michigan, and their 9-4 record was quite an accomplishment for a scrappy, overachieving team.

As a boy, I loved the Clemson Tigers in spite of the fact that they weren’t anywhere near as good as they are today. I went off to college elsewhere, though, and today I take pride in taking pride in my alma mater, Furman. I wanted Clemson to win, but I was more disappointed that it wasn’t much of a game than I was that Alabama won.

By Monte Dutton

Last year the Gamecocks won the national championship in women’s basketball and made the Final Four in the men’s game, but that doesn’t stand for much in a state that is football-crazy. If South Carolina got its name from sports preference, it would be East Georgia. In 49 states, USC is in Los Angeles, and Carolina is in Chapel Hill, but I live in that other state. I don’t hate Carolina, as I once did, and I’m glad its fans have something for which they can take pride.

Clemson fans don’t have many bad weeks. This is going to be one of them.

I knew Clemson might get the big payback in the Big Easy. I knew Alabama might whip their young asses, and I knew that if Clemson won, it would likely be in the final moments, as it was a year earlier. I also knew that Nick Saban doesn’t often lose when he has a month to prepare, and it didn’t hurt that Saban only had a week to prepare for Clemson last year.

In watching Saban’s Crimson Tide, I have detected a pattern. In the first half, it looks as if Alabama doesn’t care about winning. Alabama cares about punishing the other team. It’s an artillery barrage that leads up to an invasion in the second half. A year ago Clemson became one of few teams to withstand that hellish onslaught.

For Tide fans, and for Saban, though I doubt he’d admit it publicly, it was sweet. For the rest of my life, when I think of Saban, I will think of his coup de grace.

It was a one-yard touchdown pass caught by a 308-pound defensive tackle.

First Da’Ron Payne picked off a Kelly Bryant pass, ran it back 21 yards, and Clemson had to use this draft horse’s collar to bring him down. That’s a 15-yard, personal-foul penalty. Then Saban put Payne in the backfield, ostensibly as a blocking back, and he slipped out toward the sideline and caught the touchdown pass.

It was perfect in a Nick Saban kind of way. It was demoralizing to the opposition, as evidenced further by a pick-six thrown by Bryant on the Tigers’ next offensive play, and it was somewhat similar to the game-winning catch a year earlier by Hunter Renfrow, other than the fact that Renfrow is a scrawny flanker and Payne is a mountainous lineman who normally terrorizes the other side of the ball.

Now Clemson gets to lick its wounds, rededicate itself to perfection, and come back next year intent on forming a more union.

The Tigers’ next game is against Furman.

Oh, bother.

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About Monte

For 20 seasons, I mostly wrote about NASCAR. I'm still paying attention, but I'm spending more of my time these days writing novels and songs. I try to blog regularly on whatever happens to strike my fancy.
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