This was the perfect week for Clemson University to win its second national championship in football.
While much of the world focused on the ongoing trial of convicted killer Dylann Roof in Charleston, the Tigers showed that the face of South Carolina isn’t an evil young man from Columbia. Rather, our state is a collection of people from all walks of life, most of whom are committed to doing things the right way and working together to achieve greatness.
A benefit of sports is to unite people who seemingly have little in common. On Monday night, in Tampa and in Clemson, and in every big and small town in South Carolina, Clemson fans — and even people who don’t normally pull for the Tigers — gathered to cheer on the team. Young and old, black and white, backers of Donald Trump and supporters of Hillary Clinton cheered together.
All that mattered was their devotion to orange. While it was just a game, and while a championship doesn’t eliminate life’s challenges, their unity was another indicator that we in South Carolina have more in common than some others think.
Of course, not all South Carolinians were united behind Clemson. Many USC fans bonded in their support of the University of ABC — Anybody But Clemson. But Clemson and USC fans also have more in common than even they think. Most important are the values they share that help make South Carolinians great.
Clemson’s team displayed all the ingredients of greatness. Not surprisingly, the team’s recognized stars showed why they one day will play in the National Football League. Mike Williams and Jordan Leggett made spectacular catches. Quarterback Deshaun Watson started slow, rebounded, and kept his cool after Alabama retook the lead with just more than two minutes left in the game.
But the star on this night was a 5-foot-11, 180-pound former walk-on who most likely won’t be a first-round NFL draft pick. For the second year in a row, Hunter Renfrow was a claw in the side of Alabama’s best-in-the-nation defense.
Called a “sniper” by one teammate, Mr. Renfrow caught 10 passes for 92 yards. His final catch will be remembered by Clemson fans for generations, snagged in the end zone with just one second left to give Clemson the title.
Mr. Renfrow was not offered a single scholarship from a major college football team after he graduated from Socastee High School. So he tried out for Clemson, a process known as walking on. He’s now a legend.
Even the Gamecock-Tiger divide can’t diminish his accomplishments. Former USC football player Patrick Fish tweeted this after the game: “I’ll never be a Clemson fan, but I am a huge Hunter Renfrow fan! Gotta respect that guy! Congrats to the Tigers.”
USC women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley also congratulated the Tigers on Twitter, and singled out Mr. Watson: “Incredible game. Incredible win. Incredible performance by @DeshaunWatson4!”
She acknowledged the views of many Gamecock fans, but added, “it’s credit deserved.”
Indeed it is.
This week, there was a lot about the face of South Carolina that was hard to look at. But there was also a lot that was inspirational.
This week, the face of South Carolina included a highly talented, much celebrated quarterback who is roundly respected for his greatness as a player, as a leader, and as a role model. (Yes, he’s originally from Georgia, but we say he’s a South Carolinian now).
The face included Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who steadily built a national champion by recruiting great players and teaching them to play college football better than anyone else.
The face included a relatively small receiver from Myrtle Beach who through persistence and hard work pursued his dream of playing major college football. Now, his story and his catch will be a key part of Clemson and college football lore.
So congratulations — and thanks — to Clemson. Congratulations for winning its second national championship. Thanks for showing the nation the real South Carolina.
The State of Columbia, South Carolina