We watch sports for the good times – the memorable wins, the unbelievable plays, the championships. We watch because we want to be there when something special happens. We want to be a part of it.
But I think we’re all just gluttons for punishment. At least I am.
For all the wonderful memories and moments that sports provide, there always seem to be 10 times more of the opposite kind – the painful, lingering, brutal memories that don’t stop stinging for a while.
Sometimes it’s enough to make you really wonder why you care so much in the first place.
Last week, I traveled down to South Carolina to watch the most recent Game of the Century, third-ranked Clemson vs. No. 5 Florida State.
For those who don’t know, I graduated from Clemson in 2010. Since then – and actually, it’s been the program’s M.O. for decades now – the Tigers have done very little but disappoint. Elite recruiting classes, high preseason rankings, one of the best home field advantages in the country; none of it mattered when the moment got big. Clemson always fell flat.
If you peruse the Urban Dictionary online, you’ll find a listing for “Clemsoning.” It’s defined as “The act of delivering an inexplicably disappointing performance, usually within the context of a college football season.”
Yup, those are my Tigers.
They won the ACC in 2011, only to get embarrassed 70-33 by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. That was Clemson’s first ever BCS bowl game appearance. They’ve lost four consecutive games to in-state rival South Carolina, all by double-digits.
Year-in and year-out, they have a knack for losing to a team they’re significantly more talented than, often at home. They nearly Clemsoned this year against Boston College two weeks ago, but managed to avoid the upset with some key plays in the fourth quarter.
And that’s when we all really started to believe. Everyone wanted to think that this was the year it all turned around, especially after Clemson defeated SEC powers LSU and Georgia in consecutive games to end last season and open this one.
Maybe this team was different. Maybe “Clemsoning” was finally going to be a thing of the past.
“They would have lost that Boston College game in the past,” every Clemson fan on the planet told themselves that day. The fact that they didn’t lose a game where they were 24-point favorites at home seemed like a sign from up above.
That set up the Florida State match-up. Both teams were undefeated, and it was billed as the biggest game in the history of the ACC. The winner would have the inside track to the national championship.
It was unquestionably the biggest game in Clemson’s Death Valley since the final game of the 1981 season, the only time the Tigers won the national championship.
The campus was covered in orange. Hundreds of thousands of people stormed to the town to be involved in the atmosphere, to be a part of the truly tangible energy that was in the air all day. It was a special place to be.
ESPN’s College Gameday was on campus, where funnyman Bill Murray picked Clemson to win.
Clemson was finally going to do it. In the biggest game in 32 years, it was finally time.
I’m sure you know the rest.
I stood on Clemson’s famous hill, where the players rub Howard’s Rock and come streaking into the stadium – something Brent Musburger dubbed the “Most exciting 25 seconds in college football” – and I watched Clemson get embarrassed.
When I left the game midway through the third quarter with Florida State already leading 41-7, all I could think to myself was, “You should have known.”
The game ended in a 51-14 loss. Once again, Clemson had disappointed, this time more than ever. It wasn’t “Clemsoning” so much, because the Tigers weren’t expected to dominate FSU. But what was the greatest opportunity for the program in over three decades became the greatest disappointment in program history.
The next day, as I sat in the Greenville airport watching the Patriots add insult to injury by losing to the Jets, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd showed up to drop off his girlfriend.
He stood there looking positively human, with a boot on his right ankle. Nobody really approached him, except for the occasional admirer looking for a photograph.
I had to talk to him though. I’m still not exactly sure why, but I felt like I didn’t have a choice.
I walked up and shook his hand, looked at him and saw a man who understood that – as trivial as it may sound – what he does on a football field means so much to so many. I met a humble, nice, genuine guy who only wanted not to let us down.
Then he said it.
“Don’t give up on us, man,” he said. “We won’t quit on you. I promise you.”
And you know what? That’s all it took. I’m not giving up. One day, whether it’s 32 years from now or one year from now, Clemson will come through when it matters most, and it will heal the scars from days like last Saturday. It will make all the pain and disappointment worth it, just to finally experience the pinnacle one time. Thanks, Tajh. I won’t quit on you.
Yup, these are still my Tigers.
Kevin Pomeroy is the assistant sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.