For many, it would be the trip of a lifetime, but for Clemson University football fans, it’s the fourth year in a row that the Tigers have qualified for the Bowl Championship Series and a shot at the national championship.
Based on the experiences of Laurens County folks, it never gets old.
Among the county residents who made the trek to Arlington, Texas, for the Goodyear Cotton Bowl, Clemson’s 30-3 semifinal victory over Notre Dame was, to borrow the words of late comedian Richard Pryor, “sweet as Carnation milk.”
From a sampling of three fans just back, the way to Arlington is variably routed. Laurens businessman Martin Lowry flew with his family into San Antonio and then worked his way to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex – Arlington is between the two cities – through Austin and Waco.
Laurens District High School head football coach Chris Liner drove out with son Cade and Raider assistant Jamie Childress, stopping off along the way.
Buddy Bridges, Voice of the Clinton Red Devils, traveled out with wife Renee.
“We had a really good time at the game,” Lowry said. “I was so excited, I booked my flight to the national championship (in Santa Clara, Calif.) in the third quarter while watching in a game.”
The Lowry family trip began with two days in San Antonio, where they visited the Alamo and spent time at the city’s famed Riverwalk.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever been to San Antonio and I’d go back,” Lowry said. “It’s a great town, and we had a fantastic time. The Riverwalk is really, really outstanding.”
En route to Arlington, they took ganders at the football stadiums of the University of Texas (in Austin) and Baylor (in Waco) and visited Magnolia Market at the Silos, the attraction owned by Chip and Joanna Gaines, hosts of a popular weekly show on Home and Garden TV (HGTV). They also saw what Lowry said must surely be the world’s largest truck stop.
“For people who watch HGTV, and there are a ton of them, Waco is the holy grail,” Lowry said. “Baylor’s stadium, right on the interstate, is pretty spiff. You can tell they did it right with that stadium.”
AT&T Stadium, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ palace, lived up to expectations.
“Two things,” Lowry said. “It’s all about Texas. It’s unbelievable how big it is and how huge the big screens hanging over the field are. You feel like they’re right in front of you. The size of the whole venue just overwhelms you.
“It was definitely one of the top five bowl trips I’ve made, and I’ve been to a lot of them.”
The best, of course, to date, was on Jan. 9, 2017, when the Tigers won their second national championship at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., with a 35-31 victory over Alabama. The Tigers and Crimson Tide will settle it again at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara on Monday night.
Laurens to DFW is in the neighborhood of 1,000 miles by the earthbound route, but the Liners took several detours to places like West Monroe, La., home of the Robertson family’s Duck Commander business, not to mention stopping in Tuscaloosa, Ala., along the way and visiting the football programs of Louisiana Tech, Grambling State and Louisiana Tech.
Chris Liner, son Cade and Childress took their time, picked up three more along with way and arrived at AT&T Stadium as a party of six.
Buddy Bridges can’t believe it.
“Growing up in the ’70s, listening to games on the radio, it seemed unbelievable that Clemson could play in the Fiesta Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, and now I’ve been to all those places,” the Voice of the Red Devils said.
Buddy and Renee flew from Charlotte, N.C., to Chattanooga, Tenn., where they were delayed for five hours en route to Dallas-Fort Worth. They met friends and stayed in a Holiday Inn near AT&T Stadium and the Rangers’ Globe Life Park. Also between one park in another was another of those larger-than-life Lone Star State attracks, a massive edifice known as Texas Live, a 35,000-square-foot complex of sports bars with live music outside in the open air. Not only did the complex have hundreds of televisions showing other bowl games. It had Jumbotrons, the huge video boards normally seen in stadiums, not bars.
“When the games went to commercials, it was like you were at a minor-league ballgame or something,” Bridges said. “They’d have people with mics out in the crowds, having trivia games or showing people dancing.”
That, however, was only an appetizer.
“That darned stadium,” Bridges said, “is a spectacle in and of itself. That thing is a sight to behold. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Buddy and Renee will stay home when the Tigers fly out to Santa Clara.
“We can’t afford but one of these,” he said.
Renee often stays home, he said, but this was one she wanted to see. She’s a maniacal Cowboys fan, he said, and if the stadium was unbelievable to him, it was heaven to her.
Bridges is cautiously optimistic about the Tigers’ chances.
“They can’t go out there and turn the ball over,” he said. “Not against Alabama. Clemson’s got to stop the run. They’ve been vulnerable to the pass.
“But you know what Dabo (Swinney) says. ‘The fun’s in the winning.’”