CLEMSON, S.C.– Clemson coach Dabo Swinney described the college football lifestyle in the state of Alabama almost perfectly on Tuesday.
“When you come out of the hospital, they got to stamp your birth certificate,” Swinney said. “You are either Alabama or Auburn, or you don’t leave. You have to choose.”
Swinney’s birth certificate featured a giant crimson elephant, as his father was a big Alabama fan. The now-Clemson coach remembers showing up to one fifth-grade class decked out in Alabama gear: The Crimson Tide cowboy hat, jacket and even a big foam finger. With all the merchandise also came a deep love for legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant.
“I loved coach Bryant,” Swinney said Tuesday. “I just thought he was the greatest thing ever.”
Swinney, who went on to play wide receiver for Alabama from 1990-1992, grew up wanting, needing to play for Bryant. It was a dream of his, but that possibility ended when Swinney was in the eighth grade. He remembers walking out of his Civics class to the news that Alabama’s legendary coach had passed away in 1983.
“It devastated me because I was going to play for coach Bryant,” Swinney said of Bryant’s death. “I’m going to play for coach Bryant and when that was no longer, I was just devastated. Just never forgot it.”
The Clemson coach never got to meet Bryant, which still disappoints him to this day. He will, however, get the chance to go against both his and Bryant’s former squad on Monday night in Glendale, Ariz., as the Tigers take on Alabama for the national championship.
Next week’s title tilt is sure to bring back plenty of memories for Swinney as he squares off against his old squad, and his childhood hero is sure to be one of them.
“He was a hero of mine,” Swinney said of Bryant.