Friday, January 1, 2016
Roll Damn Ti ... gers.
There's a weightlessness that comes from knowing your college football season is dead early on. The plummet in the rankings beyond recovery is a path to freedom. It means your emotional investment can scale back, that you can bask in the panoramic joys of the game without actually giving a damn about results. Resignation is the only sane response. But you can't quite let go entirely, right?
No, you need something to care about. So you sit back and survey the landscape and then you hitch your wagon to some tertiary oxen just for funzies. For me this season, that meant Iowa and UNC. The Hawkeyes were flat-out enjoyable to follow, a good story in the mold of the 2010 Milwaukee Bucks or the recent Mighty Bengals of Cincinnati. You kind of knew deep down they were a mirage in the desert, but you kept enjoying the view anyway right up until they faded into the heatstroke of the B1G Championship game. (Still hoping they can notch a Rose Bowl win, though.) North Carolina was a little different. I live in Chapel Hill with a 3rd-generation Tar Heel girlfriend who hales from a rabid UNC family. After they beat Secretly Decent Pitt (shoutout to @SolidVerbal), we realized the ACC Coastal was pretty wide open and that 2015 Heels Football might be sneaky great. Then an insanely horrific onside kick penalty cost them a last-ditch shot at the playoff in the ACC Title Game, and they got steamrolled by a depleted Baylor in their consolation bowl. It was an ignominious way to end the best season in UNC football history. Ags, by the way, is secretly happy and relieved that we no longer have to pretend that Carolina football is a thing, while simultaneously indignant and just plain pissed off that they landed such a crappy bowl bid. Football feelings at a basketball school are complicated that way, I guess.
So what's left to root for? Well look, SEC pride is cute and all, but dammit, the concept of Alabama raising another championship trophy just makes me nauseous. What they did to Michigan State last night was evil and horrible and not even a tiny bit fun to watch. 'Bama's whole ethos is just so bland and unsavory. Implacable and faceless, plugging five-star cogs into the endlessly grinding machine. They go out every game and lower the welding hood and fire up the acetylene torch because that T-joint ain't gonna fit itself together, now, is it? The Crimson Tide are highly skilled mundanity personified. Stale and utterly joyless. Conference loyalty be damned, I can't root for this garbage.
You know what I can get behind? A team whose coach is basically a slightly more restrained and cordial P.J. Fleck. Seriously, God bless Dabo and his sweet sweet awkward dance moves and his unfettered jubilation and his brilliant decimation of the entire "Clemsoning" meme. How can you not love this man? How can you not love watching this team? Clemson utilizes their multifarious talents in entertaining and beautiful ways on both sides of the ball. The entire coaching staff are lovable misfits, and they have the team playing with controlled glee in all phases. Hell, this is a team that called a (wildly successful and glorious) fake punt in the semis partially because it was tactically brilliant but also just to let the punter know his freelancing in the ACC Championship game is something we can all laugh about now. Clemson is the Hammond B-3 wailin', two-beat rhythm section stompin' gospel choir to Nick Saban's stoic, silent football Catholicism. Perhaps most importantly from an X-and-O standpoint, they're a team with a sound but dynamic defense, and they run the type of versatile, chaotic offense that pisses Saban right the hell off because god forbid we have a little fun playing football at the expense of the #process.
So if you have a soul and like fun things, you should root for the Tigers on January 11th, no matter what your basic fan proclivities might tell you. If you don't bleed houndstooth, this is your team. Or at least, because hell I can't tell you what to do it's a free country, it's mine. Dear Clemson, I love you, at least for the rest of the season.