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College Football Playoff: Clemson, Deshaun Watson are now the stuff of legend

Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) is congratulated by teammates Clemson Tigers defensive lineman Christian Wilkins (42), center, and Clemson Tigers offensive lineman Maverick Morris (69) after Watson scored in the first half against the Alabama Crimson Tide Monday, Jan. 09, 2017 in Tampa.

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) is congratulated by teammates Clemson Tigers defensive lineman Christian Wilkins (42), center, and Clemson Tigers offensive lineman Maverick Morris (69) after Watson scored in the first half against the Alabama Crimson Tide Monday, Jan. 09, 2017 in Tampa.

TAMPA — They were behind again.

In one of the greatest college football championship games (at least the second half), the Clemson Tigers were behind Alabama again, 31-28. There were two minutes and one second left.

Clemson junior quarterback Deshaun Watson, in his final college game before trying the NFL, had a message for his teammates.

"I just smiled right when they scored," Watson said. "I just told my guys, hey, let's be legendary, let's go be great."

And then he went and did just that.

On his way out the door early Tuesday, Watson gathered up the only trophy that mattered to him.

A national championship trophy.

One final throw, the last of his 57 on the evening, went for the winning touchdown in a 35-31 win that brought Clemson its first national title in 35 years. Now and forever, it will be Watson to Hunter Renfrow, a former Clemson walk-on — two yards for a title with one second left.

One tick.

The Alabama dynasty was beaten.

The Alabama defense was beaten.

It went beyond Watson's 420 passing yards, or three touchdown passes and touchdown run.

It went to big throws under great pressure, on successive Clemson touchdown drives down the stretch.

It went to the very heart, of what Watson has brought to his team since he arrived in Clemson.

Winning.

And it made a mockery of the Heisman Trophy vote, with Watson second to Louisville's Lamar Jackson.

It's time to start voting for the Heisman after the season, playoffs and all.

Watson and Jackson met earlier this season at Clemson, and Jackson was spectacular.

Watson's team won the game.

Clemson went 32-3 with Watson as its starting quarterback.

"He's the best player in the country, and anyone who doubts that right now, you just — it's ridiculous," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.

"As I said earlier, and I'll say it again, he didn't lose out on the Heisman — the Heisman lost out on him. They lost out on an opportunity to be attached to this guy forever. But this guy, his class, his humility, this was his Heisman tonight, and this was what he really wanted. This is what he came to Clemson to do."

Monday night was what Watson and his teammates waited a year to do, ever since they walked off the field in Glendale, Ariz., after losing to Alabama in last season's national championship game. Watson had 478 yards of offense and threw four touchdowns that night, but it wasn't enough.

Watson and Clemson took the long way to Monday night, good games mixed with bad ones, including a loss to Pittsburgh. But the Tigers annihilated Ohio State in the semifinals.

Monday is where they wanted to be.

It didn't look like it in the first half, when Alabama jumped out front. Watson wasn't playing well.

But when he came alive, so did this game, and it will live for a long time.

Clemson players and fans cried openly when it was over.

Players laid on the grass sod at Raymond James Stadium and made snow angels in the confetti.

Watson at the wire, forever.

Clemson trailed 14-0, and 17-7, and 24-14, and 31-28.

No matter.

Deshaun Watson mattered more.

And to think, once upon a time, Watson, from Gainesville, Ga., dreamed of playing for the University of Florida. He spoke about that Monday night.

"Yeah, growing up, Florida was my dream school, huge fan, like I said before. I loved Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, all those guys and I just wanted to go there. But I found Christ when I was in ninth grade, and I just started praying on my decision. My mom got sick, and so it was kind of - she was praying about it. I just felt like the day I committee to Clemson, God was talking to me ..."

Vince Young was talking through Watson before that final drive.

Watson said he is a huge Vince Young fan, and remembers Young's one man show, leading Texas down the field to beat USC for the national championship in 2007.

Hey, let's be legendary.

And so he was.

And always will be.

Martin

College Football Playoff: Clemson, Deshaun Watson are now the stuff of legend 01/10/17 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 10, 2017 3:05am]
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