Trevor Lawrence (16) will start for the Clemson Tigers at quarterback against Alabama in the National Championship. Lawrence has had the most spectacular season of any freshman quarterback in Clemson history and one of the most historic freshman quarterback seasons ever.

“It’s just a game.”

“Football is just a game.”

With the Clemson Tigers headed to the College Football National Championship for the third time in four years, I’ve been hearing this phrase tossed around a lot. I’m a junior at Clemson, and I’m not sure if I should be proud or embarrassed to say I’ve spent thousands of dollars on tickets, travel, hotels, about thirty hours in the driver’s seat, and five days in a place I vowed I’d never go (the Lone Star State — P.S. I love it now). I’ve done it all in the past month, chasing the Tigers as they chase their Natty dreams.

“It’s just a game.” I’ve heard it, you’ve heard it.  And I’m here to say, I agree. It might surprise you that I agree. So let me tell you why.

“It’s just a game.” As I sit in the Atlanta airport writing this, I’m not thinking where I’m headed is “just a game”. I’m thinking about how our players will perform on the field compared to those of this Alabama team. I’m mentally matching up Coach Swinney and Coach Saban. I’m wondering about the effect of losing Dexter Lawrence on defense. I’m remembering Hunter Renfrow’s iconic catch two years and hoping he’ll find a way to do it again. I’m thankful for Deshaun Watson and Kelly Bryant, Tajh Boyd and especially Chase Brice. I’m picturing the balloon release and the most exciting twenty-five seconds in college football. I’m going to a game, sixty minutes on a 100-yard field, with a lifetime of memories in my suitcase.

“It’s just a game.” This game has become a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s sent hundreds of kids through university and been the only reason they earned their college degrees. It’s introduced spouses and formed families. It’s supported technological advancements and propelled revolutions in health, fitness, nutrition. It’s expanded multiple industries, employed millions of people, inspired millions more. It’s connected cultures and crossed state lines. It’s broken racial barriers and united unlikely friendships. It’s taught life lessons and developed leaders. It’s just a game, and it’s transformed a nation.

“It’s just a game.” When we leave Santa Clara, win or lose, no matter the scoreboard, we will still be the Clemson Tigers. When we leave Santa Clara, Coach Swinney will still be dang proud of his team. When we leave Santa Clara, I will still be wearing orange on the plane back to TigerTown. When we leave, the bond between the players on that team will still be unbreakable and irreplaceable.

When we leave, no matter the scoreboard, I will still have had the opportunity to visit nine new states, to make new friendships and new memories, to interact with Louisiana’s finest (I wasn’t even going that fast). I will still feel like an instrumental part of this team. When we leave, I’ll still have my Taco Bell Live Más Student Section scarf. I’ll still have a spray-painted orange cowboy hat. When we leave Santa Clara, even if we lose, we’ll still have pride in our program. We’ll still revere Coach Swinney. We’ll still treat Hunter Renfrow and Christian Wilkins like the celebrities they are. When we leave, win or lose, no matter the scoreboard, we’ll still bleed orange.

So yes, it is just a game. And for that, I am forever thankful.

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