Dabo Swinney called Clemson's victory over LSU "a landmark win."
My first thought was, 'Let's not get carried away here.'
I remember a few years ago, same bowl, same venue, another highly-ranked SEC opponent, and an equally impressive victory by a Clemson team striving for elite status in the world of college football.
After Clemson ran roughshod over Tennessee in the 2003 Peach Bowl and planted a tombstone in honor of the occasion, I declared it to be 'a turning point' for Tommy Bowden's program.
It really didn't work out that way.
Five years later, Bowden was out and Swinney was in, and the program still looking for a defining, program-turning change of direction.
Upon a week's reflection, what we saw in Atlanta on New Year's Eve, coupled with what we've seen happen over the past four and a half seasons, makes me think there's a very good chance that Swinney did not over-state when he declared 'landmark' status for the Tigers' victory over LSU.
Coming off the field after the game, someone reported overhearing an LSU player grousing about the exuberance of Clemson's celebration, saying 'it's just the Peach Bowl.'
Context is important. And Clemson's context for the game and the game-winning drive, which left some of the best defensive players in college football writhing on the ground in exhaustion, was far different from LSU's.
The Tigers needed a victory like this, against an opponent every bit as good as the SEC could muster.
Importantly, the Tigers did it their way - Swinney's way - first and foremost by believing in themselves.
"We got our 11th win for the first time in 31 years and only the fourth time ever," said Swinney. "It's one of the things I talked about with our team, 1948, 1978, 1981. The 2012 team now hitches their saddle up with those three elite teams in our program's history in a hundred something years. Not only did they win 11, but they did it in fine fashion.
"This is a football team that got better all year long. Tonight we kind of grew up from some of the challenges we've had earlier in the year. I'm just so proud of them: proud of our team, proud of our staff, for their preparation, proud of them for their commitment and their toughness, just their overall performance against a great tough LSU team."
Swinney said the Tigers made the game's decisive "three or four plays" go their way, and did it despite enough adversity to make a lesser team crumble.
"Lord, did we handle some adversity. I told them we'd have to handle some adversity - it's foolish to play a team like this and not think you'd have some adversity," he said. "I had no idea it was going to come on the second play. We lose Sammy (Watkins), we give up a touchdown. We lose Giff (Timothy). We have Brandon Thomas playing a position he hadn't played all year. I have a freshman out there hadn't played three quality snaps all year, blocking (Barkevious) Mingo and Sam (Montgomery).
"It wasn't pretty, but they hung in there and just kept playing all the way to fourth-and-16. Our quarterback stepped up and played like an All American. Our defense was unbelievable. It was a great finish for us."
Tajh Boyd's fourth-and-16 pass to DeAndre Hopkins will be remembered as a milestone play in Clemson football history.
Swinney said that even had the Tigers not made that particular play, and, subsequently, not won this particular game, he would have been no less proud of his team.
But the context, for a team on the rise, is in the winning.
"I told them before the game, y'all may think this is crazy, but I don't really give a rip about the scoreboard," Swinney said. "What I care about is how they compete...Just to see our football team compete with the intensity and enthusiasm, perseverance that they competed with tonight, that's what it's all about. Hey, we don't make that play, I'm still loving them up, still loving them up...
"But you can't win a national championship until you learn how to win games like this, till you learn the commitment and preparation, performance that you have to have every day, every play, every quarter.
You grow and learn from all your experiences."