TAMPA – Twenty-four years ago, Dabo Swinney was a receiver on a national championship team at the University of Alabama, where he later began his coaching career.

Now, after coming up just short a year ago, his first national championship as Clemson’s head coach has come at the expense of the Crimson Tide.

After a thrilling last-second victory in the College Football Playoff National Championship at Raymond James Stadium, the Clemson coach spoke of how blessed he was to be in this position and gave a great deal of credit to the Crimson Tide.

“Congratulations to Alabama. What an unbelievable, unprecedented run they’ve been on,” said Swinney. “They just lost the wrong game, just like we lost the wrong game last year.”

Flanked by his top two offensive stars of the game, quarterback Deshaun Watson and wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, Swinney pointed to their leadership and that of other veteran players in leading the Tigers to the title.

“This is the best player in the country right here,” he said, pointing to Watson. “He didn’t miss out on the Heisman (Trophy) – the Heisman missed out on him, on being associated with him from now on. This was his Heisman tonight.”

Watson, who set a championship game record for completions in the game – going 36 for 6 for 420 yards with three touchdowns – is the player who has “set the bar for everybody coming through here,” according to Swinney. “The seniors on this team will take this with them forever.”

More than once during his postgame comments he turned back to his opponent, noting how difficult it was to topple the top-ranked team in the nation.

“They’re a challenge,” said Swinney. “We kinda hung in there. I thought we played great defense except for two or three plays. They had a great drive at the end to take the lead.”

Alabama scored with just over two minutes remaining to go back in front, before Clemson’s final drive was capped off by a touchdown with one second left.

Swinney’s respect and admiration for Alabama head coach Nick Saban was also reflected in his remarks.

“He has been incredibly gracious to me,” Swinney said when asked about how Saban sought him out to congratulate him amid the pandemonium of the final seconds of the game. “His team will be back – they’ll probably be right in it next year. But he’s buying me a steak dinner this year.”

Swinney was a walk-on at Alabama in 1988 and a receiver on the 1992 national championship team there. He started his coaching career with the Crimson Tide as a graduate assistant and then receivers coach from 1996 to 2001.

While Watson was one of the most highly-recruited players in the country coming out of high school, Renfrow – who caught two touchdown passes in each of the past two championship games – took a path similar to his head coach, coming to Clemson originally as a walk-on and earning a scholarship in 2015.

By Monroe Roark | Special to TideSports.com