TAMPA, Fla. – He’s still celebrating, I guarantee it.
Whatever time you’re reading this on Jan. 10, 2017, Dabo Swinney is still smiling, still hugging, still talking, still reveling in Clemson’s incredible, 35-31 dethroning of Alabama in a College Football Playoff championship rematch – an all-time classic that was decided at the literal last second. He almost assuredly has not slept. He may or may not still be wearing the orange sweatshirt and khakis that were soaked in the postgame Gatorade bath, with grass stains on the right knee of the pants from being tackled to the Raymond James Stadium turf by members of his coaching staff.
“How ’bout it?” Swinney chirped at a reporter walking by while the coach was waiting to appear on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” well after 1 a.m. “How ’bout it? Little ol’ Clemson!”
No, he has not stopped. There is no interrupting Dabo’s Clemson party. Heck, it may rage until next August.
A man who endured a difficult upbringing in a broken Alabama home danced with the national championship trophy like he was rocking a baby. He placed his hands on the shoulders of his ultra-clutch quarterback, Deshaun Watson, on the postgame podium and looked him in the eyes.
“We did it!” Swinney said to Watson. “We did it!”
Then the 47-year-old coach hugged the guy whose last collegiate pass won the national title with one second left. He would hug Watson again and again in the early morning hours, along with dozens of other players and coaches and friends and family. Anyone in the massive throng of Clemson fans that descended here – outnumbering Alabama fans, which is virtually unheard of for a big game – might have gotten an embrace from Dabo.
This was a victory for happy coaching. This was a win that shows you do not have to be a joyless automaton to win it all. Coaching football has become so deadly serious that it was fair to wonder whether fun guys even belonged in the profession anymore.