CLEMSON — The No. 2 Clemson Tigers will celebrate Christmas away from family for a good reason — they are playing in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Dec. 29 (4 p.m., ESPN) against the third-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
The Tigers arrived in Dallas Sunday evening after reconvening earlier in the day at Clemson for a “quick meeting” and a “light practice.”
“I’m super pumped. Never been to the Cotton Bowl so this is a new experience for me, been doing this a long time. I’ve always heard great things,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “What a great city, what an unbelievable hotel and a venue to be able play in. So everybody is excited. I’m glad we are able to get out here today and get situated. It’s definitely something we’ve put a lot of work in back at Clemson. Now we’re excited to have a true game week here in Dallas.”
“It’s all the right days this year, it all worked out. Monday is actually Monday. We will have a good Monday practice, and then Tuesday we will wake up and have a nice Christmas celebration and kind of a program for that,” Swinney said.
“We will then ho, ho, ho throw on some pads and have a practice that afternoon. That is what we do, so we will go out there and have fun.”
With the coaching staff fully involved in the game prep for the Fighting Irish, the bulk of the non-practice activities on Christmas Day will fall on Swinney’s wife, Kathleen, and other wives of the coaches and support staff.
“Kath’s kind of working on that with all the other wives. We’ll have a nice Christmas program for all the families,” Swinney said. “We’ll have some fun. Probably have a few performances and things like that. So we’ll celebrate it for sure and make sure we’ve got ample time dedicated to that. And then meetings and go practice that afternoon.”
While this will be Clemson’s first time away from their families at Christmas, this will not be Swinney’s.
In fact, his oldest son Will, who is the starting holder and reserve wide receiver for the Tigers, experienced his first Christmas in a hotel because his father was on the staff of the Alabama Crimson Tide and they were playing in the Music City Bowl in Nashville.
“Will, when he was a baby, his first Christmas we had in a hotel in Nashville,” Swinney said. “We had a little bitty tree on our bedside table there. His very first Christmas, and I will never forget it. We were playing Virginia Tech in the Ice Bowl — it was awful. It’s different but you just embrace it. It’s a blessing. I am thankful we are getting an opportunity.
It is what it is. It’s neat. We spend Thanksgiving together every year with the team. So this will be one of those unique experiences.”
Swinney has also experienced Christmas away from home as a player. During the 1991 season, the Alabama Crimson Tide were due to play in the, now defunct, Blockbuster Bowl. But Swinney would not trade that experience for the whole world because he was with his teammates.
And Swinney will do everything he can to make sure that his players have those same memories this season.
“In the 1991 Blockbuster Bowl — was the first time I had never been home for Christmas. I will never forget it,” Swinney said. “You are calling grandma and calling to see what is going on and what everybody is doing. You are thinking about all of your routines at home. And me and my roommate are in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., looking at each other. But I will never forget that.
“That was such a cool experience for me. We will make it a great day and at the end of the day it’s about winning the game.”