Clemson to celebrate team's success with pizza party

Dabo Swinney’s off-the-cuff Nov. 3 comment about how Clemson would celebrate earning a berth in the College Football Playoff is officially a thing. Whether or not the No. 1 Tigers (12-0) beat No. 14 North Carolina (11-1) in Saturday’s 8 p.m. ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, fans can expect a shindig at Memorial Stadium. “We’re going to have a pizza party on Sunday,” Swinney announced Tuesday.

“That’s going to happen. This thing kind of took on a life of its own somehow, but it’s kind of hard to plan for a pizza party if you don’t know the outcome. You can’t have a pizza party just if you win the game. Won’t really know that until midnight or 1 in the morning. That’s a lot of (pizza) dough.”

Papa John’s is providing enough pizza to feed 20,000 people; concessions will also be open for other options. Stores in Clemson, Anderson, Easley and Greenville are coordinating the production and delivery of the pizzas, according to Papa John’s franchisee Perfect Delivery, Inc. owner Bo Knapp. Swinney said if the Tigers win Saturday, the event at Death Valley will start Sunday at noon, when the College Football Playoff committee announces its final four teams on ESPN; gates will open at 11 a.m.

If Clemson loses, gates open at 2 p.m., and the show begins at 3 p.m. when the rest of the bowl field is announced; Swinney expects his team to still receive a bid to play in New Year’s Six game.

“As the season has played out, the important thing, regardless of if we win the game or not, this team deserves to be celebrated,” Swinney said. “It really does, so we’re going to have a pizza party.” This is only the second Clemson squad to ever reach 12 wins, tying the 1981 championship team.

The Tigers are playing in the ACC title game for the third time under Swinney, who lost to Georgia Tech in 2009 as a first-year head coach before winning it in 2011 over Virginia Tech. Doing it again Saturday gives Clemson a chance to win its second national title, something Swinney did as a player at Alabama. That gives him a perspective he’s shared with his 2015 squad.

“I’ve tried to be purposeful in making sure these guys are having some fun and making sure that these guys are enjoying the moment because I think it would be very, very sad to have a season like we’ve had and not enjoy the journey,” Swinney said. “There’s a whole lot more to life than a football game. It’s the relationships, the brotherhood, the struggle, the grind, the journey that you went on. That’s what I try to make sure these guys are enjoying and they’re mindful of it because a moment fades pretty quick, but what you’re going to remember the most is that journey along the way.”

Clemson junior tight end Jordan Leggett said Swinney’s insight takes some of the pressure off a team trying to hold onto the No. 1 spot. Between social media and people on campus, it’s been a lot to process for this young team.

“It was a lot of pressure in the beginning of the season, but really, after going on this run with these teammates and these guys … I’m having a lot of fun now,” Leggett said. “We’re making history as we go and (Swinney) really wants us to have fun while we’re doing it. He doesn’t want it to all be business. That’s why he’s having a pizza party when we get back Sunday.”

Will the Tigers return home with a trophy to show off though?

The Tar Heels, like Clemson, are one of the hottest teams in the country. After losing the opener to South Carolina at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, the same site as Saturday’s game, UNC has won 11 straight games by an average margin of 22.6 points per game. The Tigers own the nation’s longest active win streak at 15 consecutive games, and how they play will determine the time and mood of the party.

“Whether we win the game or lose the game, it’s not going to make me feel any worse about or better about this football team. This team right here is special and it’s been great to be a part of it,” Swinney said.

“I know we’re going to go play our best four quarters of the season. I hope that’s good enough to win, but regardless of the outcome, there’s going to be celebration on Sunday.php?id=201405211526MCT_____PHOTO____ZUMA_20140103_zaf_cd5_007