It was, simply, the best championship of them all

by Gary Shelton on January 11, 2017 · 0 comments

in Clemson, College football, general

Cabo Swinney celebrates with his quarterback, Deshaun Watson

Dabo Swinney celebrates with his quarterback, Deshaun Watson

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

When it comes to the College National Championship, here's what you get.

You get drama. You get tension. You get stars. You get a dynamic quarterback leading his team to a thrilling victory. You get confetti. You get tears. You get joy. You get greatness.

Only that.

Okay, okay. Not every game. Not every year. But certainly more often than the Super Bowl, the college national championship has delivered.

Look back over the 19 National Championship games (and I've covered 12 of them, plus five title games before the advent of the BCS), and you'll see a pretty good collection of games.

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Which one was best? Personally, it would be tough for me to find any game that was more satisfying than Monday night's. How do you beat comeback after comeback after comeback? How do you finish a game with less than one second to play? How do you find a bigger hero than Deshaun Watson? All in all, that has a great argument to go down as the greatest championship ever.

So here we go. The 19 playoffs (plus one to make it a top 20), in order:

1. 2017, Tampa: You had the best quarterback in America (The Heisman Committee was wrong. Period.) against the best defense in the country. That quarterback, Watson, won on a touchdown pass with one second to play. That means if Hunter Renfrow doesn't get into the end zone, the game probably goes to overtime. Who knows? They might still be playing.

2. 2002, Pasadena: You had overtime, and you had controversy. You had an out of position referee making a late pass-interference call as an 11.5-point underdog team from Ohio State won. Warren Sapp used to argue about that call endlessly when he was with the Bucs. I imagine he's still upset.

3. 2013, Pasadena: Before there was Watson, there was Jameis Winston. He, too, saw his team fall behind late. He, too, had to lead a late comeback. Winston did it with 13 seconds left on the clock, throwing a two-yard touchdown pass to lift FSU over Auburn.

4. 2005, Pasadena: How can this game possibly be fourth? Vince Young was a flop as  a pro, but when he was leading Texas past Southern Cal, he didn't make a wrong decision all night. USC went up by 12 with 6:42 to play, but Young ran in two scores, the last with only 19 seconds to play. Young had 467 yards of total offense for the game.

5. 2011, Glendale: No one seems to remember how close the game was, but Wes Byrum kicked a 19-yard field goal as time ran out, and Auburn won a 22-19 game over Oregon. Michael Dyer, who never blossomed into the star he was supposed to, rushed for 143 yards and Cam Newton had 329 yards of total offense.

6. 2016, Glendale: A year before Clemson beat Alabama, the Tide earned a narrow five-point win (45-40) over the Tigers. Watson was heroic in that game, too, but the Tide squeaked past. You know, in the championship game that had Lane Kiffen.

7. 2009, Miami: Some people love Tim Tebow. Some people do not. Still, this was Tebow at his best, throwing for two touchdowns and 231 yards to lead the Gators to the national title with a 24-14 over Oklahoma. Tebow also ran for 109 yards. And remember, it was Tebow's emotional “promise” after a loss to Ole Miss early in the season that ignited the Gators' title run.

8. 1998, Glendale: FSU fans are still left to wonder what might have been if starting quarterback Chris Weinke had been able to play. Certainly, star receiver Peter Warrick probably would have had more than one catch. But Tee Martin kept throwing to Peerless Price, who caught 199 yards worth of passes in Tennessee's 23-16 victory..

9. 1999, New Orleans: FSU won another title for Bobby Bowden, this time beating Michael Vick and Virginia Tech. The 46-29 score is deceiving. The Seminoles trailed 29-28 after three periods before taking over.

10. 2001, Pasadena: The Miami Hurricanes won this one fairly easily, 37-14 over Nebraska. But what this game will be remembered as was the sheer talent of the 'Canes, arguably the best team ever (Alabama was supposed to take their places with a win Monday night). Miami trailed only twice all year, and eventually, there would be 17 No. 1 draft picks off of their roster.

11. 2014, Arlington: Ohio State completed their dramatic playoff victory with a one-sided win over Oregon, jumping to a 21-10 first half lead and  and coasting to a 42-20 win over Oregon in what will be remembered as Urban Meyers' finest coaching job. Seldom used Cardale Jones starred in the playoffs.

12. 2000, Miami: FSU lost 13-2 to a tough Oklahoma team in a game that, looking back, Bobby Bowden suggested the Miami Hurricanes should have played in the game instead of his team.

13. 2006, Glendale: Few people expected the Florida Gators to succeed against Ohio State, but almost no one expected this kind of blowout. The Gators' defense harassed Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith the entire night. Smith completed only four passes and was sacked three times by Derrick Harvey in Florida's 41-14 win.

14. 2003, New Orleans: The LSU Tigers beat Oklahoma, 21-14. But in the Rose Bowl, Southern Cal beat Michigan, and the Associated Press ignored the official designation of the title game despite LSU's win.

15. 2014, Miami: Another game picked for its domination instead of its drama. Alabama wore out Notre Dame, 42-14 in a one-sided affair. Manti Te'o had a particularly rough night for the Irish.

16. 2009, Pasadena: Who knows how good a game this might have been if Texas quarterback Colt McCoy wasn't injured on the Longhorns' first series? Alabama won, 37-21, but the game was largely without drama after McCoy's injury.

17. 2011, New Orleans: Another Alabama championship, and another dominating performance in a 21-0 win over LSU. This one loses a little luster because it was a rematch – LSU beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa earlier in the season. But the second time around featured a smothering Alabama defense.

18, 2007, New Orleans: LSU battered Ohio State, 38-24, becoming the first two-loss team ever to win a title. LSU fell behind 10-0, then scored 31 straight. Matt Flynn threw for four touchdowns.

19. 2004, Miami: The USC Trojans ran loose on Oklahoma, winning a 55-14 game. The game was later vacated because of Reggie Bush's involvement with agents. However, Southern Cal did keep its AP title.

20. 1979, New Orleans (Bonus): This one is in here because, before last night, I considered it the best game I had ever seen. Bear Bryant won his fifth national title, beating Joe Paterno 14-8 after a goal line. Also there was this: A few days before the game, a couple of other writers and I snuck into a restaurant by telling the maitre 'd that we were Alabama players. I picked a nondescript guard, figuring he wouldn't know. Another guy, who was fairly short, picked a running back because of size. But the third guy said he was Marty Lyons, a huge all-American. Still, we got in. And the guy who was Marty? He asked the waiter: “Would you tell Coach Bryant if I drank a beer?”

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