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September 2, 2013
When Jadeveon Clowney strolled happily and confidently into the post-game interview room following last Thursday's season-opening victory over North Carolina, school was in session for the media.
Lesson of the day? The most important thing is winning and everything else, including individual performances and questions about "conditioning,"falls well back in line behind that core principle of football.
Clowney's message was simple: USC was physically fit and ready to play after a long offseason of work, but UNC's fast-paced defense and the heat wore them out, making it appear as if they were out of shape.
You can practice all you want against a hurry-up offense, but nothing compares to the real thing when you start playing the game and have to run from sideline-to-sideline every 15 seconds or so.
When he sensed the media was contaminated with an unhealthy obsession about his conditioning, Clowney made them look foolish by picking up the stat sheet and rattled off the most important statistics from Thursday's game - 293 total offensive yards and just 10 points for UNC.
Apparently, Clowney and the USC defense was so "out of shape" - as some in the media would have us believe - that the Tar Heels were held to 60.3 percent of their average offensive output from a year ago.
At one point, an exasperated Clowney responded, "Did you see the score" when he was asked for the umpteenth time about his conditioning.
This quote from Clowney summed up his position perfectly: "As long as we get the win, that's all that matters to me."
Different agendas is where the disconnect lies. Clowney was primarily concerned about winning the game and getting USC off to a 1-0 start. For the most part, the media was infatuated with Clowney's individual performance and, for some of them, the final score was an afterthought.
With his approach, Clowney displayed more maturity than some analysts in the media that are double his age.
Did Clowney have a subpar game last Thursday night? Yes. Did the heat and the effects of a stomach virus zap his energy? Yes. Will he be under the gun to play better and with a lot more oomph at Georgia on Saturday? Absolutely.
I think he will and, more importantly, so does Steve Spurrier. Right now, how many people wish they had been a fly on the wall when the coach spoke with Clowney after the game?
I'm sure whatever message Spurrier delivered to his megastar got through, and we'll see a different Clowney on Saturday in Athens.
Contrary to what some in the media believed, the reason 80,000 fans and almost 500 credentialed media got together at Williams-Brice Stadium last Thursday night wasn't simply to watch Clowney begin his quest to win the Heisman Trophy. Instead, it was to see USC battle North Carolina and write about what happened.
Unfortunately, though, many in the media thought otherwise, which is why Spurrier, defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward and Clowney were peppered with questions about his "conditioning."
Shockingly, too many of the media were completely unmindful (or oblivious) of five things: 1) the heat index approached 100 degrees for most of the game; 2) Clowney wasn't the only player affected by the heat; 3) Clowney wasn't the only player on the field; 4) UNC ran its offense at warp speed and 5) USC won the game.
Sadly, the opening question to Ward illustrates the "woe is us" mentality that awkwardly still saturates the mindset of an unconvinced media corps trying to come to grips with the reality that the Gamecocks have become a nationally prominent - and winning - program.
The tactless line of questioning towards Clowney in the post-game press conference exposes the fact some (majority?) of the 400+ credentialed media members couldn't have cared less about the football game. Clowney and his performance was the only relevant topic of the night in their minds.
Listening to the ESPN broadcast as the game unfolded, it was evident to me early on that the telecast would strictly be about Clowney, as if the other 21 players on the field didn't exist.
Right now, Clowney is a lot like a young rock band that, seemingly out of nowhere, has a mega-hit record. Eventually, you've got to move on to the next project (or next game), but duplicating the success of the major hit is far more easier said than done. Over time, all fans want is for the band to keep playing the one or two hit songs from the single hit album.
Same for Clowney. Everything he does on the football field will be judged - and compared - alongside "The Hit." Fans and media will demand something similar every game. No more, no less.
Same for Johnny Manziel. Most of the stories after Texas A&M's victory over Rice on Saturday focused on his antics (oh my gosh, he taunted the Rice players!) during the game rather than his performance - three touchdown passes in the second half.
That's where we stand as a society. Style supercedes substance and manufacturing as much controversy as possible out of every situation that arises is the main aspiration of many in the media, and both Clowney and Manziel experienced that regrettable reality firsthand on the opening week of the season.
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