The White House had never been so, well, orange.
Inundated by a large contingent of Clemson University football players, staff and fans, the South Lawn of the White House turned into a veritable Tiger Tailgate Show Monday afternoon as the Tigers were feted by President Donald Trump in honor of their national championship won in January.
With the refrains of “Tiger Rag” echoing in the background, former quarterback Nick Schuessler snapped selfies of himself mugging with offensive lineman Tyrone Crowder.
To his right was the bearded Ben Boulware, the former T.L. Hanna and Clemson linebacker. As was his penchant throughout his career, Boulware wound up front and center, poised in the midst of the action.
“Today I am truly proud to welcome to the White House our College Football Playoff National Champions – the Clemson Tigers,” Trump said. “And they look like the real deal, don’t they?
“You gave America an incredible game that will go down in the record books as one of the hardest-fought and probably one of the most exciting games ever played.”
The Clemson assemblage included South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, and Representative Jeff Duncan, a former Clemson football player who helped coordinate Monday’s visit.
A group of approximately 175 people representing Clemson were on hand for the event, including university president Jim Clements.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be standing here on the White House lawn as we celebrate the accomplishments of this amazing group of young men who represent Clemson so well, on and off the field,” Clements said.
Almost all members of the Tigers’ national championship team made the trip for the ceremony, including Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and teammate and defensive tackle Carlos Watkins, who were flown to the ceremony by Houston Texans owner Bob McNair.
The celebration came almost five months to the day after Clemson captured its second national championship, and first in 35 years, with a pulsating 35-31 last-second victory against defending national champion Alabama.
“All of you played with such tremendous heart and dedication. You never gave up – you can never give up in life – and it all paid off,” Trump said. “With your grit and resolve you proved one of the most important truths in life, that success is about how hard you are willing to fight in order to overcome and in order to win.”
Trump then took turns bringing some of Clemson’s postseason heroes to the podium.
“Deshaun Watson – going to be a great NFL player, watch,” Trump said. “Where’s Deshaun? Get up here. Hey fellows, is he that good? Tell me. You’d better believe it; he’s going to be fantastic.
“He passed the ball to Hunter Renfrow. Where’s Hunter? Oh Hunter, you’re so lucky you caught that ball.”
Trump also shook hands with Boulware and Watkins, then closed by calling the Tigers’ feat “an inspirational finish to a historic season.
“That was a victory that was willed. The great champions tend to do that,” Trump said.
At that point, Trump ceded the podium to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who also was celebrated at the White House as a player with Alabama in 1992.
“I’m so glad that my players and staff got to experience this,” Swinney said. “What a special, special day it has been.”
Then Swinney closed with a flourish.
“This group of young men did the little things better than everyone else,” Swinney said. “It’s great to be back together one more time. This is a special moment. But then I had the chance to see a lot of these guys put those caps and gowns on and become graduates; that was a special moment. Some have already taken jobs, getting their first paycheck; special moment. Some of these guys have signed with NFL teams; what a special moment. Being here at the White House as the nation’s champion? What a special moment.
“But I want you players to know that there are going to be other special moments – when you get married, when you become a father, when you buy that first house. Ten years from now we’re going to have a special moment when we have a reunion. Some of y’all are going to be bald, some of you are going to have big bellies, but it’s going to be a special moment when we get back together. But life is not about those moments. Life is truly about how we live between the moments. It’s treating others the right way. It’s random acts of kindness. It’s doing the little things in a great way.”
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