When the Tigers awoke on Jan. 1, 1982, at their downtown Miami hotel, they found they had an immediate advantage: the high temperature was expected to be 86 degrees. The humid weather was like September in South Carolina.
After spending the early afternoon watching bowl games in the hotel, the Clemson football players boarded their team buses. When the team arrived at the Orange Bowl parking lot, wide receiver Perry Tuttle remembered an outpouring of support.
"We finally get to the stadium and saw Clemson fans there so early and so loud," Tuttle said.
The Orange Bowl locker rooms were modest by today's standards -- simple wooden lockers and bench seats. The Tigers were typically loose in the pre-game locker room. Defensive tackle William Devane
blared a stereo. But when Danny Ford entered and asked for silence, the players quickly quieted and faced the head coach.
The locker room's ghosts were impressive. Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers had been there. Coaches like Bear Bryant and Woody Hayes had given pre-game speeches in the space. Now it was Ford's turn to offer a final message to a team he had guided one step from perfection.
"Relax, have fun, do your job," Ford said. "You deserve to be here."
Clemson fullback Jeff McColl, hurt earlier in the season, returned to play in the Orange Bowl.
"Coach said this opportunity is not going to come along again," McColl said.
McColl and the Tigers floated through the tunnel, spilling out into an electric night, a valley of orange, red and white. It was Clemson's first national television audience of the season.
The moment was enormous, yet, they had to focus.
They knew one of their immediate challenges was dealing with Nebraska center Dave Rimington.
While the nation focused on Nebraska's backfield running back duo of Roger Craig and Mike Rozier, the Clemson staff was worried about Rimington. The Rimington Award is now given to the nation's top college center. Had Clemson finally met a center who could neutralize freshman defensive lineman William Perry?
"I wanted to see how William Perry was going to go against Dave Rimington," Tuttle said. "On the first two or three plays, Rimington was driving Perry three or four yards back. Jeff Davis got in the grill of Fridge and after that, Perry manhandled Rimington."
Late in the second quarter, a Nebraska fumble led to a two-yard Cliff Austin touchdown and Clemson took a 12-7 lead at the half. At halftime Devane, Perry and the staff believed they were beginning to wear out Rimington.
"We knew if William and I would continue pound on him in the third and fourth quarter that all year he didn't see a tandem of nose guards like that," Devane said. "You could tell he was gasping he wasn't moving off the ball quite as quickly. You could tell he was getting tired."
Said Tuttle: "When the fourth quarter came it was obvious that our team was so much better conditioned than they were."
Tuttle had the season's signature moment in the third quarter.
Jordan lined up behind the center and looked toward Tuttle, nodding twice to let his receiver know to run a fade route. Jordan lofted a pass to Tuttle for a touchdown. Tuttle wheeled back toward Jordan with his arms outstretched. The image was captured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Clemson later added a field goal and took a 22-7 lead into the fourth quarter. Craig scored late to make it 22-15, but the Tigers ran a series of quarterback sweeps with Jordan, who was near exhaustion, to melt the remaining clock.
"Being in the huddle at the Orange Bowl, the clock running down, the referee didn't have to mark ball, we didn't have to run a final play," Clemson guard Brian Butcher said. "Everyone looked at each other, tears were in our eyes. We did it. We did it. ... It will be the highlight of my life, forever"
The Tigers were 12-0, national champs.
Said Tuttle: "After the game, I remember seeing Homer Jordan laying on the field dehydrated, he couldn't move."
The moment was surreal.
A year earlier there was speculation about Ford's job. Now he was the youngest coach to lead a team to a national championship. The postgame press conference, the party at the hotel was a blur.
"I didn't see (Nebraska coach) Tom Osborne until a little later after the game," Ford said. "He made the comment, and this is when I knew we were really good, that we had some of the best personnel he had ever played."