Should I Feel Bad?

My feet were planted squarely on the grass and my hands were in my pocket. My eyes looked straight forward, barely noticing the 300-pound players just yards away from me. Although it appeared I was staring at the action, I was merely gazing through it looking off into the distance.

Wake Forest was about to score, and the hapless Clemson defense was digging in as I stood in the end zone at Groves Stadium. The snap, fullback off tackle, touchdown! The 20,000 or so Wake fans burst into a cheer. Clemson is on its way to a 45-17 shellacking. And all I want to do is disappear into the grass.

And I'm stunned. The stunned silence that engulfed me inside of Groves Stadium begins to manifest itself into pure anger as I make the trek back to the upstate of South Carolina. As the miles tick on the speedometer, the anger turns to outrage.

It is not the fact that Clemson lost in Winston-Salem that is eating me on this October evening. It is the fact that we were embarrassed. The players, the coaches, and the administration were all embarrassed. But, most importantly, the fans are embarrassed. And that embarrassment was quickly turning to frustration and then into anger as the evening went on.

And for the first time, I had little doubt in my mind that Tommy Bowden was not the man for the job at Clemson. He was done. Cooked. Fried.

And exactly 7 days later I was proven wrong. Clemson has just knocked off Florida State on its way to winning the final 4 games of the 2004 season in stunning fashion.

And I can hear the voices, via the Internet and talk radio, saying "I never doubted Coach Bowden and anybody that did ought to be ashamed". I feel guilty and embarrassed that I doubted the coach, his assistants, his players, and his program.

But, should I feel bad for questioning the direction of the program on that October evening?

Let's face it. Big time college football is a dog eat dog world of sports that is only a half step away from professional athletics. There is a pervasive attitude that says you better win or else. And in mid-October, the Tommy Bowden ship had hit the "or else" phase.

I stood by Coach Bowden, both privately and publicly on this web site all the way up to the Wake game. On the site, I stood by the premise that no decisions should be made until the season is over. Inside, I was fuming.

I am man enough to admit that I had jumped off the train in the aftermath of Winston Salem. Most of you did too, whether you are big enough to admit it now or not. And, trust me; many of you will not admit it.

For those of us that did admittedly jump off and then eagerly begged to get back on a week later, should we feel any guilt? Absolutely not.

Bowden and this program deserved the flack it took to the mid section in mid season. Clemson was coming off back to back 7-5 seasons that included embarrassing losses to UNC, Maryland, N.C. State, and Texas Tech. The 2004 season was going to be a turning point. And following an ugly loss at home versus Georgia to start the 2004 season coupled with the frustrating losses at Maryland and at N.C. State, the rudder was directing the ship in all different directions.

The loss at Wake, coupled with the above disasters, rightfully had thirsty Clemson fans longing for greener pastures. We deserved and demanded better. And I contend that it is that desire for greatness that makes us a great football program.

Our friends down Interstate 26 have no such demands. They are content, at least on the surface, for their team to struggle year after year. Losing 63-17 on their home field was a tough pill to swallow, but not the end of the world in their minds. One could argue that they, at least by mid February, have become indifferent to the beating they received in November to the Tigers.

And that is why they are not Clemson fans. And that is why their program is stuck in mediocrity.

Clemson's loss to Wake in Winston Salem was more tumultuous to Clemson fans than the Clemson loss in November was to South Carolina fans. In the aftermath of the Wake loss, Clemson fans and boosters demanded improvement. If we did not get it, there was going to be changes.

The scene in Columbia is much different. A couple of sacrificial lambs were fired from Holtz's staff, and then they proceed to pick up "better" jobs elsewhere. But Lou, Mike McGee, and the faithful boosters are still there. Are they frustrated? Probably. Are the upset enough to DEMAND better? No.

And that is what makes Clemson a great football school. Even Tommy Bowden, the man with his head on the chopping block after Wake, admits that the passion for this school and the football program is what attracted him to the job. He even decided to sign long term with us, the good and the bad, in essence ensuring he will end his coaching career in Clemson.

So I don't feel bad for being angry in October. I'm mindful that ultimately I was proven wrong and Tommy Bowden is a great football coach. I'm man enough to admit I was unhappy. And I'm also man enough to know when I was wrong.

The lows of 2004, however bitter they were, will never overshadow the high of FSU, Duke, USC, and Tennessee.

And I'm glad my heart lies with a football school that expects and demands that those highs far outweigh those lows.

Otherwise, mediocrity would be acceptable. And in college football, just like in life, you get what you accept. Top Stories