Why Joe Maddon has a role in Dabo Swinney, Clemson Tigers' road to Tampa
TAMPA - Clemson's road to Tampa for Monday's College Football Playoff national title game includes a trip to Wrigley Field and words of wisdom from former Rays manager Joe Maddon.
Bear with me, with this story from Saturday's media day.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and some of his assistants were in Chicago in April for the NFL draft. The Cubs happened to be in town, so Swinney and his assistants decided to go. Swinney called his agent to see if he had any connections to help get tickets.
"I know Joe Maddon," his agent said.
"Who's Joe Maddon?" Swinney replied.
His agent politely told Swinney that Maddon is the Cubs' manager.
"That's a pretty good guy to know," Swinney said.
Anyway, the Cubs hooked Swinney up with tickets for the Brewers game. There was a rain delay, so the Clemson contingent got to check out the facilities at Wrigley Field. Swinney saw the Cubs' new locker room area, complete with a drum set and disco ball. Sounds like a super-sized version of what Maddon had with the Rays.
"I'm like, what the heck is this?" Swinney said. "And they're like, ‘This is the celebration room. Joe likes to celebrate.' And I'm like, I like this guy."
Swinney met a few players and noticed how loose a team with championship expectations was. When the tour made a stop at the manager's office, Maddon was in there, wearing baseball pants and a shirt that said, "Try not to suck."
"I'm like, this is Joe Maddon," Swinney said.
Swinney and Maddon hit it off instantly. Maddon told Swinney that he watched the Tigers last year. Swinney told Maddon that his Cubs clearly had a winning culture.
"They knew they had the best team, and I think they embraced that..." Swinney said. "Don't run from that. It kind of resonated with me."
When the Tigers met after the summer, Swinney carried the Cubs' mentality to his team.
"Everybody has been telling us we're this target," Swinney said. "Well, we are the target, and let's embrace that..."
And Maddon's "Try not to suck" mantra? That stuck, too.
"My message has always been, Hey, don't lose to Clemson," Swinney said. "If we don't lose to Clemson, we've got a chance here.
"Joe Maddon says, Hey, if we just don't suck, we've got a chance to win. So that kind of resonated with our guys."
It worked for Maddon's Cubs; they won their first World Series in 108 years.
We'll find out Monday whether it works for Swinney's Tigers, too.