They held the college football championship game Monday night, and was it ever a championship game! Played without a scintilla of Steeler/Bengal bad blood, Alabama and Clemson put on a show for the ages. They gave the trophy to the Crimson Tide but everybody is talking about Deshaun Watson around the coffee shops and office cubicles of America. It took a failed on-side kick by Clemson with 12 seconds left, down 45-40, to finally seal the deal and give Bear Bryant University another title.
Half the heroes last night will be playing on Sundays this fall so talented are they, and not only the skill position guys but a half-dozen 300-pound blockers and tacklers, finely conditioned, who were as strong in the fourth period as they had been during the stirring National Anthem.
I say half only because NFL rosters are limited to 53 guys.
Watson is the sophomore quarterback for Clemson who answered every call all night throwing for 405 yards and four touchdowns, all the while slithering away and through the on-rushing Tide to find another first down.
The sincere hugging that took place at game’s end between Watson and Heisman winner Derrick Henry of Alabama bore no resemblance whatsoever to the near criminal action of both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati players two nights before when bedlam ensued and threatened to cut short the AFC Wild Card game as referees seemed helpless and frightened to contain the ugly mess.
Both Clemson and Alabama have thirty-odd players in the NFL and the dozens of five-star high school recruits in attendance at the Championship Game pretty much ensure the Tigers and the Tide will be back next year and the years after that, knocking on the championship door again. Whoever gets the best players will win. Recruiting is everything.
The play that keyed the win was a trick play out of Knute Rockne’s playbook. Speaking of recruiting, a kid from Poland who spent his early years in an orphanage before being adopted by American parents, executed an on-side kick so classically perfect it appeared to come out of a Bob Fosse musical. It caught me and Clemson totally off-guard, nestling in the arms of Alabamian Marlon Humphrey who had swiftly raced the requisite eleven yards downfield, catching the pigskin on the fly as adroitly as Odell Beckham. One play later, a blown coverage assignment in the Clemson secondary gave Alabama ten points in fourteen seconds and a leg up on the win.
The nail-biting finish that followed punctuated this classic and put it on a par with the great USC-Texas game of ten years ago when Vince Young raced into the end zone with only seconds remaining to give the Longhorns the title.
Commissioner Goodell, send a copy of Monday night’s game to everybody associated with your NFL organization, i. e., players, coaches, referees, fans, vendors, advertisers, parking attendants, ground crews, security people, announcers, talking heads, etc., demanding they view it before your Super Bowl to ensure the product you and they deliver will be on par with, or superior to, this year’s College Football National Championship.
It was that good.