Long before he ever arrived in the Upstate, Dabo Swinney had a strong liking for Clemson.
The Tigers, after all, had battled Georgia's Bulldogs tooth-and-nail for more than a decade, and they took as good as they gave during what is considered to be one of the Southeast's classic rivalries.
As a youngster growing up in Pelham, Ala., Swinney was at an impressionable age during the heyday of Clemson's battles with the Bulldogs.
In those days, he had a particular friend who he dubbed 'the world's most obnoxious Georgia fan.' And so when the Bulldogs lined up against the Tigers, Swinney's heart was with Clemson.
Swinney was, first and foremost, a fan of Alabama. His secondary allegiance went to whoever was playing Auburn or Georgia.
There was another strong connection, of course, between Swinney's Crimson Tide and Clemson, in the person of the Tigers' precocious and plain-spoken young head coach, Danny Ford.
Swinney was nine years old when Ford took over as head coach at Clemson at the end of the 1978 season. A decade earlier, Ford had been an All-SEC offensive tackle for legendary coach Paul 'Bear' Bryant. Swinney wasn't old enough to be much of a Tide fan when Ford played, but by the time Ford emerged at Clemson, his allegiance was well-established.
He always pulled for the Alabama guy.
Swinney continued to follow the Clemson-Alabama connection throughout his career, primarily through some of the coaches he played for and coached with.
Woody McCorvey, who had served on Ford's staff at Clemson from 1983-89, was Swinney's position coach at Alabama. Danny Pearman, who played for Ford at Clemson, joined Alabama's staff when Swinney was a player there, and then coached with Swinney when joined the Tide staff as a grad assistant. 'Brother' Bill Oliver was another. He played at Alabama, coached at Clemson under Ford, and then was on the Alabama staff under Gene Stallings when Swinney was both a player and coach.
Swinney says that throughout his career, he's been kept well-informed by his friends and peers on the nature of the Clemson-Georgia rivalry.
"There was no doubt in my mind when they started talking Clemson-Georgia that it was something special to all those guys," Swinney said recently.
Swinney well-understands the passion associated with the renewal of the rivalry this year. For a large portion of Clemson's fan base, it's a return to the past, with both teams situated in the nation's top 10 and entertaining legitimate national championship ambitions.
Swinney is also struck by the appropriateness of the fact that on Saturday, 32 years removed from Clemson's only national championship, the university and athletic department chose to induct Danny Ford as a member of its Ring of Honor.
Swinney doesn't pretend to know all the dynamics and details of how Ford came to be ousted as Clemson's head coach following the 1989 season.
But he has a strong sense that the subject of Ford, and his place in Clemson's athletic legacy, has long been a point of division among members of the Clemson family.
Now he's glad to be part of what he sees as an opportunity to heal three-decade-old scars.
"I think it's a great moment," said Swinney. "Obviously, I wasn't here in the '80s, but I do think that whole deal has been something that's kept Clemson divided for a long time. From the outside looking in, it's like there's always been a group here and a group here.
"I just think this is way overdue."
The way Swinney sees it, Ford has been loyal to Clemson, and now Clemson has answered by extending Ford nothing less than the respect and place of honor he has earned.
"I've a lot of respect for Coach Ford," Swinney said. "When he left here, he went on to be successful. But I think he's always been loyally committed to Clemson. He's always gone above and beyond to try to help Clemson.
"I'm sure there have been some frustrations on both sides. But I'm just glad that this is finally taking place. Hopefully it will bring our people together and help us to move on, and that we can embrace the good and keep moving forward."