Regardless of which team prevailed in the College Football Playoff national championship Monday night, Jesus was going to get some credit.
Both Alabama’s Heisman Trophy runner-up quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, and his Clemson counterpart, Trevor Lawrence, are known for giving the glory to their Lord.
As it turned out, Clemson cruised to a 44-16 win, putting the focus on the team’s coach, Dabo Swinney, as well as its heralded freshman QB, Lawrence, neither of whom is shy about emphasizing his strong Christian faith.
Coverage of Clemson’s national title run that ignored that fact missed an important angle.
But I was pleased to see a number of reports that caught the relevance of Swinney’s mention of God, including this one from the Sporting News:
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Dabo Swinney insists no Hollywood movie producer — not even Steven Spielberg — could write the script for what the Clemson football program accomplished in the last 11 seasons.
No. 2 Clemson had just won its second College Football Playoff championship in three years with a stunning 44-16 blowout against No. 1 Alabama at Levi’s Stadium on Monday. The Tigers became the first team since 1897 to finish 15-0. Swinney, wearing an oversized black shirt that said "Ring Season" wore a smile and stared at a half-full Diet Coke bottle while riffing into his best explanation for how this could be possible again.
"It's just the grace of God to have the opportunity to experience something like this once in a lifetime," Swinney said. “To have a chance now to do it two times in the past three years is just amazing.”
By the way, if you’re not familiar with Swinney’s back story, check out this 2016 column by the National Review’s David French:
Also, this was an interesting anecdote at the top of a 2016 New York Times column after Swinney’s Tigers defeated my home state’s Oklahoma Sooners:
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — At the end of Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney’s news conference on Wednesday, I asked him a theology-based question.
Would there be a place on the Tigers’ roster for a player who told Swinney that he would not be participating in Bible study, church outings, Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings or any of the other religious activities for which Swinney has become known?
Swinney, whose top-ranked, undefeated team routed Oklahoma in a national semifinal here on Thursday, said that was easy to answer.
He said: “My job is to win football games. We’re going to always recruit and play the best football players. We don’t play the best Christians. If we played the best Christians, I wouldn’t be sitting here. I’ve coached a bunch of atheists, I’m sure, along the way — a ton.”
And here is a little more, via the Deseret News, of what Swinney said after Clemson earned its second national championship in three years:
• “There are so many great coaches that are so deserving of a moment like this and never get the chance to experience it. And to get to do it once and then to get to do it again, it’s a blessing, and it’s just simply the grace of the good Lord to allow us to experience something like this,” he said.
• He added, “And all the credit, all the glory goes to the good Lord, No. 1, and No. 2, to these young people. When you get a young group of people that believe, are passionate, they love each other, they sacrifice, they’re committed to a single purpose, you better look out. Great things can happen, and that’s what you saw tonight.”
Meanwhile, an ESPN columnist did a nice job capturing the star player’s essence in a piece titled “‘He’s gonna be a legend’: Welcome to national champion Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence’s world.”
Some of the fine prose from that column:
In Cartersville, they tell tales of the kid who loves Jesus and grew his hair out to the point that he kind of looks like Jesus, and after two state championships and nearly 14,000 yards passing, many in Hurricanes country believe he could also probably walk on water.
On Monday night, the rest of the nation was baptized in the football gospel that the folks in those three areas had been trying to deliver to us all along.
The same columnist quotes senior wide receiver Hunter Renfrow as saying: “And look at his face. You couldn't tell if he's just won the national championship or if he's just headed down to Chick-Fil-A to eat. He's ice, man."
Jesus and Chick-fil-A? Yes, there’s definitely a faith angle here:
He does love Chick-Fil-A. Back in Cartersville, that's where Lawrence would hide out, ducking the crush of being a local celebrity to watch film of upcoming opponents in a corner booth on his laptop. In Clemson, they say he does the same, poring over Notre Dame and Alabama defensive cut-ups while snacking on Chick-n-Minis. After his last teammate handshake of the night, he finally turned and started walking toward the waiting explosion inside the Clemson locker room. But he paused when he caught a glimpse of the postgame meal boxes stacked up on a table in the concourse.
"Now we're getting Chick-Fil-A, too?" college football's best quarterback exclaimed as he brushed his long, golden locks from his face. "We can't lose tonight."
Your turn, dear GetReligion reader: What coverage did you see on Monday night’s game and Clemson’s season?
Did coverage reflect the religion angle? Or was it haunted by holy ghosts?