WASHINGTON– The Clemson Tigers completed their final celebratory lap as the 2016 national champions Monday, being honored by President Donald Trump in a ceremony at the White House’s South Lawn.
Thirty-five years had passed since the Tigers were last invited to the president’s house to celebrate a national title in football. But after coming up six points shy of making the trip last year, the Tigers booked their flight to the most prestigious house in the world in the wee hours of the morning Jan. 10, as they defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide, 35-31, to capture the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship.
For Swinney, it was a trip that he got to experience as a player and is excited to share with his team as their coach.
“I know we’re going to leave really early and get back late,” Swinney said. “I got to do it as a player back in 1992, the spring of 1993 — so I’m excited for our guys to have an opportunity to get to go. I don’t know if all of them can go, some of our seniors have camps and stuff, but it’ll be a fun trip. The Capitol and the White House — you get to do something in a way that very few people get to do.”
The Tigers, as they did for then President Reagan in 1981, presented President Trump with a special No. 1, white jersey with his name on the back of it. But unlike when the Tigers last made their trip, there was a second recipient of a jersey–the president’s youngest son, Barron, who was presented with an orange jersey of his own.
But on this special day, the focus was on the Tigers.
“Today, I’m truly proud to welcome to the White House, our College Football Playoff National Champions—the Clemson Tigers, and they look like the real deal don’t they,” President Trump said. “Congratulations to all of you and to your terrific coach, we all know who that is don’t we—Dabo. Dabo Swinney what a great job.
“I was with Coach (Bill) Belichick (of the New England Patriots) and he said, ‘That guys a real coach’ and you can’t do better than that. Congratulations Coach.”
While President Trump recounted the incredible events that took place on that faithful night in January, he used those events to share a life lesson that he wished to impart on all who would listen.
“You gave America an incredible game, that will go down in the record books as one of the hardest fought and, probably, one of the most exciting games ever play—a last second pass, that was pretty good coach,” President Trump said. “Good job coach. All of you played with such tremendous heart and determination, you never ever gave up. You can never give up in life. And it all paid off. With your grit and resolve you proved one of the important truths in life: Success is about how hard you are willing to fight in order to overcome and to win.
“After being down fourteen-to-nothing…almost halfway through the game, like true Tigers, Clemson roared back and with the whole nation watching, and beyond the nation, Deshaun Watson…passed the ball to Hunter Renfrow to score the game-winning touchdown with one-second left on the clock. It was an inspirational finish to a historic season for Clemson. The team willed their victory.”
That victory gave the world of college football, “one of the greatest games” that the president had ever seen, but it was the message that came from the Tigers head coach that resonated the greatest with the leader of the free world
“People are going to be talking about what you did for a very, very long time. That victory and the comeback was a product of a vision that began nine years ago, when Coach Swinney assembled a team of assistant coaches who believed in his vision,” President Trump continued. “They recruited great, great players and together you worked hard, had fun and turned Clemson football into a winning machine. The Tigers have gone an astonishing 89-28 under the coach’s leadership. He helped forge a new culture at Clemson.
“It was on display in the locker room right after the big game. The coach recalled how he told the team that the theme of the College Football Playoffs this year is ‘Chasing Greatness’ and he told them that, ‘Nobody’s better than us and we’ve got to believe it.’ You chased greatness and now you have achieved true greatness.”
While Swinney had hoped that all members of the national championship team would have been able to attend, he understood that some of them had obligations with their NFL teams and would be unable to experience the event due to travel arrangements.
But the Tigers were able to have a couple of their biggest stars with them in Washington, as Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and defensive lineman Carlos Watkins were flown to the Capital by the team’s owner, Bob McNair (a University of South Carolina graduate), to celebrate the team’s accomplishments alongside former teammates.
Even as many within the country are divided about the president, for Swinney this trip had nothing to do with politics–it was all about celebrating his team’s accomplishments at a historic venue in a time-honored tradition.
“Thank you so much. What a special and unique opportunity this is to stand here and look at the Washington Monument and to also see this trophy (CFP National Championship Trophy). It’s such an honor to be able to speak to all of you today,” Swinney said. “Such an honor to be a part of such a special tradition. A special and unique tradition where the White House and the president honor the champions. That’s exactly what these guys are—champions.
“I really thought we were going to be here last year, I really did, but we came up a little short. But I am so, so thankful and grateful that my players and my staff have had a chance to experience what I got a chance to experience as a player, as a part of the Alabama national championship team in 1992. Very thankful to have the opportunity to tour the White House and to see all the great history and to experience this great day.”
Swinney did not waste time recounting the events that brought his Clemson Tiger football team to Washington, instead he focused his attention on the players who have moved on from the program.
Taking time to remind them that as special a day Jan. 9 was, and as special of a day as this trip was—there would be many more special days to come.
For some it would be when they get married, have children or buy a house, but Swinney wanted his team to remember that it is the moments in between those special events that will matter the most.
“I challenge you all, our team and our players, as we come together one last time. I challenge ya’ll as we all move on with our lives to take those core values that we have at Clemson,” Swinney said. “Take them with you. Take them with you. Continue to do the common things in your life in an uncommon way. Continue to be all in, continue to apply ‘best is the standard’ to everything you do. Be a person of excellence in everything you do—as a worker, as a husband, as a father. Everything that you choose to do put your heart into it.
“It’s always about what’s next and the best truly is yet to come. And I truly love all of you. This is something that we dreamed about, but the goals that we had pale in comparison to the daily commitments that it took to get here.”