The first thing Dabo Swinney did when he walked into the interview room at the Georgia Dome Monday night was to apologize.
"Sorry it took a while," said Swinney. "It's been 31 years since we had a celebration like that."
A plethora of game-ball presentations might have had something to do with Swinney's tardiness.
Each Clemson senior got a commemorative game ball, as did former Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips and long-time athletic equipment manager Alfonso Smith.
"We had a few game balls we gave out," Swinney said. "I gave one out to Terry Don Phillips. Myself or (LSU coach) Les Miles wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Terry Don Phillips. He was inducted into the Chick Fil A Hall of Fame. He's going to get a game ball. I know he hired me and Les, but I sure am glad I'm the one that gets to give him a game ball tonight.
"I also gave a game ball to Alfonso Smith, our equipment man, 18 years, his last game with us, and what a great job he's done. Eighteen years, and he's never seen a Clemson team ever win back to back 10 win seasons, never seen a Clemson team win 11."
This year's small senior class, Swinney said, was something special.
"We gave every senior a game ball," he said. "This group of seniors, not many of them, but this group of seniors, when they came to Clemson four years ago to play for me, there wasn't really much to sell them other than, 'hey, you know, here is my plan. I believe. I just need you to believe. This is where we're going. This is how we're going to do it.'
"Man, those guys, they've taken this program where it hasn't been in 31 years. Won more games than any senior group in forever. Set a record for conference wins. Set a school record for wins at home.
"The thing I'm most proud of these seniors, every single one of them have their degree. They have won at a very high level on the field and they have won off the field.
"I have no doubt that every single one of them are going to be incredibly successful when they leave here and take this next step in this journey of life. They're going to be great husbands, fathers, leaders, great citizens. There's no doubt they're equipped to be very successful.
"They carried us," he added. "Those guys carried us. They just put this team on their back. Tonight it was awesome to see them perform like they did."