As game time drew near in the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl on Wednesday night, half of Sun Life Stadium was draped in Old Gold and Blue while the other was hued in Clemson Orange and Regalia.
And somehow the orange clad enthusiasts seemed to have the edge in overall enthusiasm and audible excitement.
What happened next for the Tiger faithful on the relatively chilly South Florida evening was at first thrilling, then disturbing and finally utterly devastating.
Yes, Clemson fans lived out their worst football nightmare in Sun Life Stadium on Wednesday evening…the bad dream that keeps the truly vested enthusiast lying awake at night became a reality right before their own eyes.
Four turnovers, six penalties, a porous defense, an ineffective offense and a score that quickly got out of control.
49-20 at the half.
63-26 at the end of three.
And, 70-33 when mercy finally took control and sounded the final gun.
So, how did the Clemson faithful respond to a fate too awful to mention to anyone outside of therapy?
Yes, some of the Tiger backers chose to leave the confines of the stadium early but those who stayed behind to watch the slaughter left as indelible an imprint on the careful observer as the scoreboard did on the casual viewer.
It was the late third quarter and the once chock full Clemson side of the stadium was now sparsely populated and the game painfully out of reach when the Tigers finally managed to score their first points since a second quarter field goal.
Though the 28-yard Tajh Boyd pass to DeAndre Hopkins was well executed, all the momentum and big play anticipation and excitement had begun to seep out of the stadium.
And that’s precisely why what happened next is what makes college football the greatest sport in our great country.
Yes, the Clemson TD brought the score to a still gut wrenching 63-26 in favor of West Virginia, but even under a cloud of sure defeat a band of Tiger fans rose from their seats, waved their spirit devices and cheered on their college football team.
Those Clemson folks cheered for that score like it were a much needed TD that would change the outcome of the game.
God help the true fan who drove thousands of miles, spent thousands of dollars and then watched their team get pummeled in the game they’d dreamed of playing in for 30 years.
Want more heart-warming proof that college football is the most passion-driven institution in all of sport?
When the fourth quarter began with the scoreboard still reading a devastating 63-26 Mountaineers advantage the remaining Clemson fans (yes, there were even fewer now) began the traditional “C L E M S O N” cheer which was complete with amazing volume and filled with palpable enthusiasm.
And, to ice the cake with just over a minute remaining on the clock Clemson scored again making the final tally 70-33 and yet again the remaining Tiger fans leapt from their seats and cheered as the band enthusiastically played on.
What kind of game is this where you love your team so much that you cheer passionately even when they’ve literally gotten the crap beaten out of them in an almost embarrassing fashion?
Yes, what kind of sport is this that tramples on your heart, punches you in the gut but still you are compelled to enthusiastically support your squad?
Then you get up the next morning, in a tragic funk after the unfathomably ugly loss, and you get on a plane, jump in the car or go back to work.
You are devastated, gutted, shocked and distraught.
You don’t read the paper, you don’t watch sports on TV but still deep in your soul burns an undeniable flame that tells you that next season will be better.
You, my friend, are the chaste, the celebrated, the illustrious…the college football fan.
Yes, God help the true college football fan, the Clemson fan that showed their colors proudly on Wednesday night in an Orange Bowl performance that will be painful to remember but impossible to forget.
College football…where passion defies logic and the world is a wonderful place.