Dabo Swinney was emotionally spent.
He had just stepped off the platform following the trophy presentation after giving a heartfelt, rousing speech to the Clemson faithful, which was preceded by an excited interview with ESPN sideline reporter Jeannine Edwards, whom, before it began, Swinney had picked up and given a huge bear hug.
Oh, and right before that, his Clemson Tigers had marched 70 yards in 1:39 against the No. 9 LSU Tigers and Chandler Catanzaro kicked a 37-yard field goal as time expired to win the 2012 Chick-fil-A bowl game, 25-24.
As he started to walk by me, I said, “Coach, give me 30 seconds… I have a present for you. You want it now or later?”
He held out his hand and said an exhausted, “Now.”
I then placed a Kennedy bi-centennial (1776-1976) half dollar in his outstretched hand.
“That,” I told him, “is the coin that was used for the pregame coin toss. It's been burning a hole in my pocket to give it to you after we win. We won, it’s yours now.”
How did I end up with the pregame toss coin to give to coach Swinney? Simple - I had provided it in the first place.
If we back up this story to pregame, I’m standing along the Clemson sideline waiting to get some photos of Clemson retiring athletic director Terry Don Phillips’ induction into the Chick-fil-A Hall of Fame.
As we wait, I’m enjoying a casual conversation with Chick-fil-A bowl Vice-President of Events Derek Martin. He eventually leans over and asks, “You wouldn’t happen to have an extra quarter in your pocket.”
I said that I did, and asked him why?
“The officials forgot the coin for the pregame toss. I usually have one as a back-up, because it's happened before.”
“If that’s the case,” I told him, “I have something better.”
For the past six months, I’d been carrying one of two bi-centennial half-dollars with me, part of my mother’s coin collection I inherited when she passed away 12 years ago. (Side note: I also have a gold dollar coin in my wallet which has been used before at a Clemson home game for the pregame coin toss).
I gave him the half-dollar and he said he’d give it back to me afterwards. I said I’d like to be able to give it to Coach Swinney should the Tigers win. After the pregame toss, Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy walked back to the sideline, Derek retrieved the coin and handed it back to me.
Clemson won the toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff. However, two plays later, Sammy Watkins fumbled and suffered a game-ending injury. Two plays after that, LSU scored a touchdown and my contribution wasn’t looking too good.
Actually, providing the coin for the pregame toss was my second contribution towards the Tigers' eventual win. Sunday evening, I was at the Marriott Marquis team hotel in downtown Atlanta, hanging out with Clemson fans. I had wandered around the three lobby levels looking for some good fan art for the front page of the Independent Mail’s Monday edition.
Making my way to the lowest level, I ran into Dawn Risinger and her daughter, Kasey, of Lexington, S.C. After catching up on what happened over the holidays and what our predictions were for the bowl game, Kasey was standing at the railing overlooking the water pond at the base of the elevator towers.
“Mom,” she said, “There’s a bunch of coins in here. Can I have a penny?”
I said that I had one, but checking my pockets, I didn’t. “I have a nickel you can use instead," I said. "It’ll give you five times the luck.”
So Kasey stood at the railing, clutched my nickel, closed her eyes and made a wish before tossing it into the water. Opening her eyes, she looked to see where it landed. “I can’t find it,” she said. I looked over the railing and spotted it atop one of the white rocks.
“There it is. That’s a sign your wish will come true. It landed on a rock and not between the rocks.”
I like to tell people that I’m not in the game playing and I’m not on the sideline coaching, therefore I have no say-so in the outcome of a game.
But the combination of my .55 cents, Kasey’s wish and Catanzaro’s kick, it’s nice to think that together, we did, and that Coach Swinney now has a unique souvenir to remember it all.