Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I was a huge Michael Jordan fan. Most current young sports fans only see him as the silhouette of the Jumpman sneakers and clothing. On the other hand, if you're of my age demographic, you know him as the GOAT, the greatest that ever lived. So, when his name is invoked or a comparison is made to #23 it not only gets your attention, but invokes a certain level of cynicism and derision.
At last year's Senior Bowl, I saw a gathering of people around Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney as he held court. I couldn't get close enough to hear so I wandered to another point on the field. The Cleveland Browns had the first pick of the 2017 NFL Draft and were coaching at the Senior Bowl in Mobile. Swinney's quarterback was only a junior, but he had graduated in three years and was eligible for the Senior Bowl as a result. He passed on the opportunity, so said quarterback and his decision were talking points for most of the week. As such, every media member in the world wanted to hear from Swinney. He certainly didn't disappoint.
"I'm just telling ya, passing on Deshaun Watson will be like passing on Michael Jordan," Swinney remarked.
As such, I didn't hear it at the time, but minutes later, from the other side of the field, my Twitter timeline went berserk. 140 characters can only capture so much sentiment, so many scoffed at Swinney's remark about his national championship winning quarterback. I didn't scoff so much as I was left encouraged. Any piece of draft information can help me as a draft analyst put together a player's profile. Not many players in the past, if any, had ever been referred to as such by his college coach. Yet, I remember thinking, okay, Coach, that's a bit much.
Then, he stepped under center for the Houston Texans and we all saw it. Watson only played seven games with six starts, but it was after that memorable game in Seattle when I turned to Marc Vandermeer and Andre Ware and said that I understood completely what Swinney meant that day at the Senior Bowl.
This week, I had the opportunity to speak with Coach Swinney at the Paul Bear Bryant Coach of the Year Award ceremony. I wanted him, with the opportunity to expand beyond 140 characters, to fully explain his comments.
"John, I didn't really have the proper words to tell everyone how truly great he is in every way. So, I made the comparison to Jordan."
Swinney said he texted Deshaun right afterward to tell him what he had said to the media and, in typical Watson fashion, the soon-to-be rookie wasn't phased at all. There's a long way to go, but like the GOAT Jordan, Watson made an enormous splash as a rookie. In Jordan's case, he went on to be the straw that stirred the NBA drink for the next two decades so here's hoping the Deshaun continues on that same path.
I'll have much more from my conversation with Swinney over the next week as we talked about everything from Watson to DeAndre Hopkins to Christmas gifts to Houston's new nickname, well in his and many Clemson fans' eyes. Suffice it to say, the Texans have plenty of new fans in the Palmetto State, including one accomplished head coach.