'If we don't win that game, I'm probably not here'

Clemson’s pending trip to Boston College has plenty of memories flooding back to Dabo Swinney’s mind, including one particular game the Tigers’ coach believes started all of this.

“If we don’t win that game, I’m probably not here,” Swinney said Tuesday.

The date was Nov. 1, 2008, and Swinney was Clemson’s interim coach at the time.

It was just his second game in charge following Tommy Bowden’s midseason firing, and Clemson had lost the first one, a 21-17 setback to Georgia Tech that ran the Tigers’ record to 3-4 and their losing streak to three games..

Swinney and his team had an open date to try to get things figured out before traveling to Chestnut Hill to square off against Boston College.

The start was a good one for Clemson, which scored the first 17 points, but the Eagles answered with the first 21 points of the second half to take their first lead midway through the fourth quarter.

Running back C.J. Spiller came through with a timely lift, returning the ensuing kickoff 64 yards to set Clemson’s offense up inside the red zone.

The Tigers were in the end zone four plays later on Cullen Harper’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Kelly.

Clemson added a field goal on its next possession to push its lead to 27-21, a score that stuck until the end.

The victory propelled the Tigers to four wins in its last six games that season, and  Swinney was named the permanent head coach that December.

“It doesn’t get any bigger than that first one,” Swinney said.

“That was a huge, huge win for us, especially how we won. For that team in particular, it just needed something good to happen.

How we had lost to Georgia Tech in that first one and then the open date and all that was going on.

That was huge for that team. It kind of helped us and solidified what we were trying to do down the stretch.”

Since then, Swinney has vaulted Clemson’s program into elite status in the realm of college football.

The Tigers have shared or outright won nine ACC Atlantic Division titles as well as seven conference championships and have made six College Football Playoff appearances.

Swinney is one of just two active FBS head coaches (Alabama’s Nick Saban) with multiple national championships.

Swinney points to that Boston College game 14 years ago as the catalyst for it all. A handful of players who contributed to that win are now on Swinney’s staff, including Spiller and receivers coach Tyler Grisham.

Swinney said he still has a photo from a celebratory locker room that night.

“They’re all big, but you just don’t realize how big they are until later on down the road,” Swinney said.

“It was just one game, but it was what that team needed to be able to rally, stay the course and create the type of belief that we needed to have a good finish.

“That’s one I’ll never forget.”


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