Clemson and Florida State's salty exchange over canceled game livens up rivalry

Dan Wetzel
·4 min read

Clemson didn’t violate any protocols last weekend when a player flew with the team to Tallahassee only to later post a positive COVID-19 test result.

And Florida State didn’t violate any ACC rules when it called the game off due to that Clemson kid.

Everyone did what they were allowed to do. Maybe the ACC should have foreseen such disputes and been in position to make the call, but in fairness, this is all uncharted territory.

Emotions boiled up anyway, highlighted by Clemson coach Dabo Swinney all but mimicking chicken bawks when talking about the Seminoles.

“This game was not canceled because of COVID,” Swinney alleged. “COVID was just an excuse to cancel the game.”

Swinney offered no proof that Florida State cooked up a reason to avoid getting curb-stomped by the superior Tigers.

You could scream that such an unfounded charge is reprehensible, but you can’t say it’s surprising.

First off, this is 2020. Making outlandish allegations about an opponent cheating despite lacking any evidence is par for the course ... as long as it plays to your base. And much of Swinney’s base — Clemson players and fans — no doubt lapped it up.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney yells during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Florida State on Oct. 27, 2018. Clemson defeated Florida State 59-10. (AP)
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney yells during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Florida State on Oct. 27, 2018. Clemson defeated Florida State 59-10. (AP)

Secondly, this is college football. The famed “Little Brown Jug” that goes to the winner of the Michigan-Minnesota game began because Michigan brought its own water to a road game out of fear that whatever the Gophers offered would be poisoned. Poisoned!

That was 1903.

So whatever Dabo is alleging, even if doing so goes against the core values he often espouses, it’s nothing new in these parts.

Not that Florida State appreciated it, of course.

“It absolutely was a COVID issue,” coach Mike Norvell stated.

The Seminoles said they were just trying to err on the side of safety. Maybe they were wayyyyy on the side of safety or maybe they were being smart, but again, that was the right the Seminoles had. It wasn’t their guy who tested positive after all. It was Dabo’s.

“Football coaches are not doctors,” Norvell noted. “Some of us might think we are.”

Norvell said he wants the game rescheduled for Dec. 12, when both teams have an open date.

Dr. Swinney said since it was FSU’s decision to not play Saturday even after the Tigers flew all the way down there, then the game should be staged at Clemson. Either that, or Florida State should pay Clemson’s travel expenses to return.

Norvell said he was fine with that.

“If contributions need to be made, I’ll sign up to make one,” Norvell said.

Here’s to hoping it happens, because out of all this posturing about a game that wasn’t even played has come something positive — a dormant rivalry that is suddenly alive again.

Clemson-Florida State should be heated. It should be passion-filled. It should be played with an edge, with some anger, with some animosity. It should fall in line with college football’s long-standing tradition of distrust and distaste.

It should have fans of each school despising the coach and administration of the other.

Florida State coach Mike Norvell speaks at a news conference on Dec. 8, 2019. (AP)
Florida State coach Mike Norvell speaks at a news conference on Dec. 8, 2019. (AP)

This should be one of the great rivalries in the sport. There have been moments it’s threatened to get there only to cool off.

FSU holds the all-time series lead, 20-13, but too often one team is up and the other down. The Seminoles once won 11 consecutive, the scores rarely in single digits. Clemson is on a current five-game winning streak, the last three by a combined 135-38.

Swinney used to judge his program by how it compared to FSU. As a Clemson assistant he said he defied head coach Tommy Bowden and recruited top Florida talent that were considered Seminole leans. When he landed five-star running back C.J. Spiller out of Lake Butler in 2005, it established both a recruiting football hold in the talent-rich state and convinced Swinney himself of Clemson’s potential.

Florida State was then the immovable object at the top of the ACC standings. Clemson is now the king, so much so that regardless of the merits of Swinney’s allegation, it seemed at least plausible that FSU might want to avoid playing to save itself from the humiliation.

It’s on Norvell, now in his first season at Florida State, to change that. He needs better players. They need better coaching. The Seminoles should never be this bad — 13-20 since 2018. The program should be doubly motivated by Dabo right now.

And when they eventually get back, if an added dimension of anger toward the Tigers and their conspiracy-spewing head coach comes with it, then all the better.

It’s the games, not the news conferences, that are supposed to be entertaining.

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