Clemson fans celebrate national championship

Published 7:33 am Tuesday, January 10, 2017

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — They had to wait a year, some 35 years, but jubilant Clemson fans filled the streets near campus after the Tigers wrapped up their first national championship since 1981 with a dramatic victory over seemingly unbeatable Alabama.

It was a roller coaster ride of emotions for the Clemson faithful in South Carolina.

And for Crimson Tide fans watching in Tuscaloosa.

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Students and fans clad in Tiger Paws and Orange sweatshirts near campus hugged each other when Clemson took a 28-24 lead in the fourth quarter of the national title game Monday night against the mighty Crimson Tide in Tampa, Florida. Minutes later they stood in stunned silence after Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts put the Crimson Tide back on top 31-28 with a touchdown moments later.

Alabama fans had to be feeling pretty good.

It would have been easy for even staunch Clemson supporters to throw in the towel, give in to that “Oh no, here we go again” feeling after last year’s disappointing 45-40 loss to Alabama in the title game.

But the chilly fans braved the 30-degree weather, standing outside bars and restaurants along College Avenue across from the Clemson’s campus and hung with their team, cheering each play of the game-winning drive. They erupted in joy on Deshaun Watson’s 2-yard TD pass to Hunter Renfrow with a second left for the winning score.

They broke into a Clemson chant as the game ended, scrambling for others to hug and high-five.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Jason Brown, a Clemson physics professor who jumped around with students as Tigers coach Dabo Swinney accepted the championship trophy on the two big screens set up on College Avenue for fans who couldn’t make the trek to Florida.

As the result went final, patrons in the restaurants and bars emptied onto the streets to share their joy.

The scene and emotions in Tuscaloosa also changed quickly. Hurts’ touchdown appeared to TD that would bring the Crimson Tide a third consecutive national championship. But Alabama’s vaunted defense allowed the Tigers a game-winning drive to spoil that party.

In Clemson, an estimated crowd of 5,000 people shared fist bumps, bear hugs and shouts of success to show their exuberance, and relief.

A group of students pulled out an old couch and carried it off as others followed to see if it would go up in flames — a typical campus celebration.

Police had to chase one fan off a light pole soon after the game ended. However, the celebration that carried over into Tuesday morning was largely peaceful.

The city of Clemson had never before blocked off College Avenue, a thoroughfare filled with eateries, bars and Clemson souvenir shops that is the main drag and gathering place for Clemson students.

The iconic Esso Club, a longtime pub just off campus close to the athletic distrct, also set up a large screen with tables and chair in its parking lot.

The main action, though, took place on College Avenue.

Josh Gibson was grateful he could share the win with his family, who all set up lawn chairs to watch the dramatic finish.

“It was fun to be a part of it,” said Gibson, who was a toddler when Clemson last won a national crown. “This is going to last us for a while.”