Clemson-Alabama football chatter checked out of the Hotel California just over a month ago but it can never leave. What happened on Jan. 7, the Tigers’ 44-16 dominance, rings like a mission bell heard from Santa Clara to Tuscaloosa.
It keeps ringing.
Portable “Roll Tide” rationalization, which fits as easily into a social media post as in the luggage compartment of a subdued flight home from San Jose, goes something like this: “Ah, that’s OK, Dabo Swinney is just warming up to take over at Alabama when Nick Saban retires.”
The theory is grounded in Swinney’s Pelham, Ala., boyhood and his life-changing stint as a walk-on wide receiver who helped Alabama win the 1992 national championship.
Never mind that Swinney has pledged loyalty to his carefully crafted Clemson culture at every opportunity.
For now and for the long run.
He wavered just once, and that was in a brief moment of frustration the day after a 56-35 victory over South Carolina in November, a three-touchdown spread in a 15-0 season that some fans thought should have been a shutout.
“I just want to win by one more point,” Swinney sniffed. “If that ever gets to where that’s not enough, then it’s time for me to move on somewhere else. I ain’t never going to apologize for a 21-point win over a state rival, ever.”
And the next day he said, “Our fans are amazing — 98 percent, 98 percent.”
Let’s be clear.
Despite what many Alabama fans think …
Despite what the Alabama TV guy and the Alabama radio guy said when the three of us discussed this subject during a pre-national championship game TV showcase broadcast throughout Birmingham and suburbs including Irondale, Coalburg, Minor and Pelham …
This is the complete summary of chances Dabo Swinney ever takes over as head football coach at Alabama:
And slim just failed to get the first down on a desperate Alabama fake field goal play with Clemson leading 31-16.
But strange things do happen in college football, confirmed by Steve Spurrier starring in beer commercials, Army finishing in the Associated Press Top 25, UCF claiming a national title and recent confirmed sightings of Mack Brown in Tar Heel blue.
What follows is the only plausible scenario in which Swinney winds up as the head coach at Alabama, a 15-year process peppered with Tide pain and Clemson glory:
Trevor Lawrence, Justyn Ross, Travis Etienne and friends lead Clemson to a second straight national title, downing Texas at the Superdome in New Orleans.
Swinney celebrates his third championship in four years with a morning-after visit to Café Du Monde for beignets.
Nick Saban retires at age 70 in a ceremony held at inside the rotunda at Alabama's Saban Graduate School of Advanced Achievement.
His gaudy record includes seven national championships — six of them at Alabama, including an overtime victory over Clemson in the 2022 national title game in Indianapolis.
Swinney says “no” to Alabama begging.
D.J. Uiagalelei, Clemson’s star redshirt junior quarterback, returns to his home state to lead the Tigers to a national championship game victory over Georgia in Los Angeles.
Alabama finishes fourth in the SEC West.
Swinney, 60, is the highest paid coach in any American pro or college sport. Plus, he has a 2-for-1 biscuit deal at Bojangles.
He has won six national championships as a head coach.
He has established himself as a Clemson legend beyond anything anyone will challenge as long as his kids (and all those grandkids) are alive.
He knows that Alabama has fallen on hard times since Saban left; Mike Dubose and Mike Shula didn’t have it as bad as the poor guy who replaced the struggling guy who was dumb enough to try and replace Saban.
So Swinney opts to save Alabama, vowing simply to get the Crimson Tide back to national respectability.
Alabama gets a bye in the 16-team College Football Playoff and wins a first-round home game against four-time Big 12 defending champ UCF.
But Swinney’s Tide loses to head coach Tony Elliott’s Clemson Tigers in the semifinal round inside the New England Patriots’ new domed Belichick-Brady Stadium.
Dabo Swinney retires from coaching.
LeBron James, architect of the new ESPN/FOX/Neflix/YouTube merger, introduces Swinney as the network’s new lead college football studio analyst.
Swinney moves back to Clemson.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff