Everyone dreams big. Very few make their wildest dreams reality. Deshaun Watson is one of the exceptions.
As a high schooler four years ago, Watson foretold Monday night’s performance.
Me. In a National Championship Game. I'm just waiting on that moment.
— Deshaun Watson (@DeshaunWatson4) January 8, 2013
Watson had his moment in 2016, skewering the vaunted Alabama defense for 480 total yards and four touchdowns. Blame for Clemson’s 45-40 loss fell far from the Tigers’ star quarterback.
As rare as it is for one to reach their dream, a shot at redemption after falling short is considerably rarer. He made good on his improbable do-over, going for 420 yards passing, another 43 rushing, and four total touchdowns.
It’s a performance that will go down in the annals of college football history as one of the sport’s most iconic. All four of Watson’s touchdowns came with Clemson trailing, including the game-winning strike to wide receiver Hunter Refrow in the final seconds.
For Alabama, the loss was its first with a halftime lead in 24 games. Clemson’s rally from down 10 going into the fourth quarter marked the first double-digit-point comeback completed against a Nick Saban Tide team.
The term legendary probably gets overused and ill-applied in today’s hyperbolic sports media landscape, but everything about Deshaun Watson’s night screams legendary.
Better yet, he called his shot five years ago.
If I get a chance to play in a national championship game, Imma go ham.
— Deshaun Watson (@DeshaunWatson4) February 5, 2012
But he couldn’t have completed the dream without plenty of help.
Clemson’s defense gave up touchdowns on big plays, including Jalen Hurts’ touchdown rush that setup the final, 68-yard drive. O.J. Howard’s touchdown reception in the third quarter, which also went 68 yards, had to feel like a bad nightmare for Watson, again so close to his dream.
However, it was the play of Clemson’s defense for much of the night that gave the Tigers quarterback and his offense an opportunity to win the national championship. Ben Boulware flying around the field, Jadar Johnson forcing a fumble, Kendall Johnson doing his part to keep the run game in check.
And Watson’s offense — oh, the offense.
Clemson’s pass-catchers took it to another level. Mike Williams twice looked like injuries would send him to the sidelines. Instead, he comes through for some of the most jaw-dropping receptions of the 2016 season.
Game recognize game, as Tyrann Mathieu gave Williams his endorsement.
MikeWilliams somewhere between Julio &Aj Green !!
— Tyrann Mathieu (@Mathieu_Era) January 10, 2017
Renfrow’s game-winner was his second touchdown of the night, and fourth in a national championship setting against Alabama.
— Hardys® (@HardysMedia) January 10, 2017
Big-game hunter, indeed.
Plenty of people contributed to bring the dream to life. Ultimately, though, this was Deshaun Watson’s journey.
Recency bias is a very real thing. I sometimes feel like a prisoner to the moment, especially in the last calendar year.
The past nine months provided Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer in the Final Four; the Cleveland Cavaliers rallying from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to win one of the best Game 7s ever played; the Chicago Cubs coming back from down 3-1 in the World Series, rallying from a late-inning meltdown and winning in extra innings.
Just one week ago, the Rose Bowl produced the best game of the 2016 season, and a damn high bar for the rest of 2017 to match. Clemson and Alabama may have cleared it.
Keeping that all in mind, let me say definitively that, no: This National Championship Game did not surpass the 2006 Rose Bowl.
USC and Texas were two of the best teams in college football history, both playing their absolute best on the biggest stage.
Monday’s game lagged for stretches in the first half. Jalen Hurts struggled mightily in the passing offense, which would have sank the Tide had Clemson not suffered its own miscues early.
The 2006 Rose Bowl remains the greatest college football championship game ever played, but Deshaun Watson cranked it up to Legendary in an effort every bit worthy of comparison to Vince Young.
It’s the kind of scenario a youngster playing the game dreams of. Deshuan Watson lived the dream.