All is usually forgiven in the aftermath of a victory, but one has to imagine that Clemson Tigers punter Andy Teasdall got an earful in the locker room at halftime on Saturday night, after already getting an earful on the sideline, and probably continued getting an earful on the bus ride back to South Carolina, and might still be getting an earful for all we know.
After all, in the “punters should be seen and not heard” world, Teasdall’s decision to take off on a fake on fourth-and-15 on his own 30 – ultimately falling short and setting up North Carolina for a go-ahead first-half touchdown in the ACC Championship Game – was both a bonehead move and an immediate trend on social media.
But if that was Clemson’s only big gaffe, so be it.
Such is kismet with these Tigers that the mistake was repaid in the third quarter, when the Tar Heels tried a designed fake punt and failed, setting up Clemson with a touchdown in the Tigers’ 45-37 victory.
That put Clemson at 13-0, put the Tigers into the College Football Playoff and likely locked up the No. 1 seed and a national semifinal game against Michigan State, assuming the current rankings hold true.
It might have been the school’s most important victory since winning the national championship in 1981, and long overdue at that. Clemson is a program with a national reputation but not nearly the pedigree of other major schools. The Tigers have been good, but not quite good enough.
Yet this year has been so completely different, so strangely captivating. That one awful performance that Clemson was always infamous for, the game that knocked them out of conference or national title implications, never materialized. And this was the microcosm of it – though UNC scored 37 and wouldn’t go away, you never got the sense that Clemson was ever really in any trouble. Not when the Tigers trailed 9-7, not when they trailed 16-14, not when Teasdall decided to play hero, not even when North Carolina pulled within eight and recovered an onside kick with 71 seconds left. Such is the destiny of Clemson this year that the Tar Heels were whistled for offsides on the play even though replays clearly showed they were not.
But that’s what happens with fate. Some things are just meant to be.
That said, let it not take away from the actual hard work it takes to get to this point. Back in 1996, I covered the New York Yankees’ march to their first world title since 1978. In a moment of luck, I was able to interview reliever John Wetteland in a hallway after the game and I asked him if he felt like this was destiny given some of the moments that team overcame during the year – the illness to manager Joe Torre’s brother, the return of pitcher Dwight Gooden, who threw a no-hitter, and pitcher David Cone coming back from an early-season aneurysm.
Wetteland looked at me like I had three heads.
“No,” he said bluntly. “To say that it was destiny says to me it was pre-destined, and that completely discounts all the work we put into this.”
The same applies with Clemson.