Since the ACC began determining their champion with a conference championship game in 2005, Clemson fans have longed for the title. Elusive to the tigers since 1991, winning the conference championship became the overriding goal for the program. Only the Clemson Tigers we know and love could manage to sour a season in which they finally accomplished their main objective. A loss to South Carolina and not just a loss (we could have handled that), but a demolition at the hands of West Virginia in the Orange Bowl took some of the sweetness out of Clemson’s Orange Bowl season. So how does the program react?
With the program’s first 10-win season since 1990 and first championship since 1991, Clemson is regarded as a program on the rise. Similarly, rival South Carolina, who just completed what was their greatest season of all time, winning 11 games for the first time and winning their most prestigious bowl game ever (the Capital One Bowl–their previous best was the Outback Bowl), is emerging from decades of mediocrity to become a quality national program. So how will Clemson’s late season ups and downs effect the program? Where do they go after the high of an ACC Championship and the lows of a third straight loss to their bitter in-state rival and a 37-point defeat in the Orange Bowl?
While it’s often erroneous to compare professional sports to college sports because professional leagues tend to foster parity while exposure, recruiting, and cash flows create the opposite effect in college athletics, I think I can draw a logical comparison here.
In 2008 the Lakers where itching for a title as the five seasons since their 2002 championship against the New Jersey Nets made it feel like a distant memory. For Laker fans, that five-year wait felt like Clemson’s two decade winding path to a Championship, as they had grown spoiled after a three-peat. The Lakers earned their way into the 2008 NBA Championship which pit them against their historic rival, the Boston Celtics. The Lakers played that series with less desire and pride than their opponent though. The feeling I experienced after that NBA championship series was much the same as the feeling after the Orange Bowl.
“The 2008 Celtics brought an end to their storied franchise’s 21-year championship drought with the most lopsided closeout win in NBA Finals history on Tuesday night, blowing out the Lakers, 131-92.”
As the Celtics celebrated, sometimes rather ridiculously, Phil Jackson made the Lakers watch. He ensured that the Lakers would “remember how this feels.” The Lakers’ bus was physically rocked side-to-side by rowdy (classless) Boston fans as the shamed Lakers were trying to leave a town ready to celebrate a championship. The pain and shame felt after the loss was horrible for players and fans at the time, but NBA fans remember how the next two seasons would unfold.
The Lakers found a new motivation, a new inspiration that led them to handle the Orlando Magic in the 2009 NBA Championship, and then in the following season earn a rematch with their Boston rivals. In an epic series that went to seven games, Ron Artest and Pau Gasol starred in what turned out to be an emotional comeback win in game seven of the NBA finals.
The drubbing in 2008 gave the Lakers what they needed to grow as a team. Clemson’s season feels bittersweet at the moment, but they did accomplish the program’s number one goal and I’ll wear my ACC Championship gear proudly this offseason. Now, with that accomplishment under out belt we can recalibrate the program up a notch with the new goal of winning a BCS bowl game. While it seemed that the tigers were content with their ACC crown this season, the memory of this loss should propel Clemson to even bigger and better things in the years to come. It may not be next year, as I foresee the offensive line being a big problem, but if Dabo is the hero we’ve tabbed him to be, we’ll see some significant growth bud out of our Orange Bowl defeat.
How do you see Clemson’s Orange Bowl appearance impacting the program? How bad will it affect recruiting? Will there be a new motivation and toughness in years to come?
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