In the end, it was a classic.
When Clemson finally scored to take the lead 35-31 with :01 second left in the 4th quarter (at around 12:30 AM EST FWIW) it seemingly brought and end to what has been an outstanding college football season. But, of course, the season wasn't finished with us yet because there was still the kick-off (onsides) and the Clemson recovery (under further review) which told us both what is great about this silly game and what is wrong with it all at the same time.
In the end, however, the officials got the call correct, Deshaun Watson took a well-deserved knee and Clemson are your 2016-2017 College Football Playoff Champions. Congratulations to the Tigers. And congratulations to the Crimson Tide as well, because the two teams treated us to an all-time performance and, especially, a 4th quarter for the ages.
Before all of that however it felt as if the game was being played in a fug.
It started slowly. Both teams went three and out and then, behold, Bama scored on one of those drives where all of Twitter goes "Uh Oh" before cringing in front of what we all know is going to be a blowout.
Then, it was 14-0 as Bo Scarbough started to run roughshod over the Clemson defense and it looked all the world like the pundits worst fears were true. As the saying goes Evil, always wins and it appeared that Darth Saban's Evil Empire was just about to blow planet Clemson to smithereens.
A funny thing happened however, as Clemson rallied, scored a couple of touchdowns and actually ended the half down 14-7, only one TD down and with a team that was looking more and more competitive as the game went on.
At the end of the 3rd quarter it was 24-14 and Clemson was driving. Right at the beginning of the 4th they scored a touchdown to draw close at 24-21 and the stage was set. Ironically, 24-21 was the exact same score as last year's title game at the start of the 4th quarter, a game that Clemson lost 45-40 which was driving their motivation this year.
After that the game boiled down to Alabama's athletes, including TE OJ Howard who, same as last year, was left totally unguarded and scored a long TD to put Alabama up 31-21 and looking for all the world like the next champions, versus Mr. Watson. And it was Deshaun Watson who decided that is team was just not going to lose today.
Wherever Deshaun is today, I'm sure he's sore. Because the Alabama defense administered an old-fashioned ass-whuppin on him as the game went on. Hard hit after hard hit, a Watson-Copter play where he whirling dervished at around his own 40, and Watson just kept getting up and willing his team to the end-zone.
Then, Clemson's passing game started working, as Mike Williams (another member of the "beat to a pulp" club) started making acrobatic catches down field and "gritty" Mike Renfrow (future New England WR) started making key catches and RB Wayne Gallman and TE Jordan Leggett made just enough plays to set up the final stanza.
And what a stanza it was. Seemingly every play was a great play, with some level of spectacular contained within it. The ESPN announce crew of Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit did a pretty good job of accentuating the high moments and then getting out of the way. By this point the game had become fully-formed and the drama was set.
And then Renfrow caught his TD pass with one second left in the game. 35-31 Clemson, ballgame. Clemson fans went wild, Bama fans (probably) destroyed ever TV in the State and the long-loud wail that you heard was the Las Vegas sports books realizing their ultimate fear: Clemson outright and the over. (I had Clemson with the points, but not on the ML. I didn't play the total)
There will be a lot of talk as to whether or not this was "the best College Football Championship Game of the modern era". The obvious contender being the 2005 Rose Bowl where Vince Young took UT-Austin on his back and willed them to a championship. I'm not going to get into that here. All I'll say is that I've been privileged in life to be able to witness both. Both great games with two of the greatest individual performances I've ever seen from Vince Young and Deshaun Watson respectively.
There will also be a lot of (silly) blame placed at the feet of Steve Sarkesian, who, in my opinion, called just about the best offensive game that he could, given that his Freshman QB is not yet able to consistently complete the forward pass down the field. Losing today does not take away from the fact that Alabama's defense was an all-time, once in a decade unit. And what they achieved this year is arguably the best single-season performance in the modern era.
In the end the College Football Playoff gave us exactly what it was supposed to, a a match-up for the championship between the two best teams in the country. In the end, it gave us what will probably be the best football game of the season, college OR pro.
Are there problems? Sure. The games run too long for one, and college football needs to figure that out (hint: don't stop the clock after every first down, except in the last three minutes of each half) and the instant replay process is still cumbersome and a little bit odd. The officiating needs some work, but to be fair this Big XII crew did a pretty good job calling the game. (Maybe you could argue they might have called targeting from time to time but that didn't seem to be biased against any one team) And "Buff Ref" became the star of the show.
College football (and it's TV partners) do need to seriously look at how to reduce the in-game commercial breaks. There were times in this game where I felt I was watching a commercial show and the game was the sponsor. The games need to be played in three to three and a half hours. That's a problem the rules committee needs to address.
Because tomorrow morning I, and many others, are going to wake up, and drive to work in a state that makes us technically comatose, all because we had to get one last Larry Culpepper commercial in before the broadcast was complete. (Leaving Jesse Palmer behind was the funniest thing they've done with that all year.) Also, this game should have been played on a Saturday, so that we all could stay up later and eviscerate our livers with the college football drinking game.
You have around 8 months to rest-up, replenish, and recharge before the 2017-2018 season begins.
I can't wait.
Until then though,.....College basketball is looking fun this year.