TAMPA, Fla. -- The reason, deep down, that we dislike teams like Alabama, or the Lakers, or the Yankees, or the Patriots, is not because they're uniquely loathsome, that they've done anything to deserve any of our scorn. It's not even just because they win so often. It's because, if you are not a fan of one of those teams, it cannot help but feel as if their championships mean less to them than a championship for one of our teams would mean to us.
When your team regularly wins titles, like Alabama will try to do Monday night for the fifth time in eight seasons, the joy you experience is real, but also one that can't help but be diminished. You end up not talking about That Championship Season, but instead comparing championship seasons to one another. I noticed Boston Red Sox fans doing this after they won their third World Series in a decade back in 2013. That season, the year of the Patriots Day bombing and Boston Strong, the year they finally won one at home, was easily better than 2007 -- who cares about beating Colorado?-- but couldn't quite match the 2004 title, which seemed to shake the very foundation of the planet itself. So: 2004, then 2013, then 2007. Meanwhile, fans of teams like the Indians or the Bills or the Maple Leafs look at that supposedly less exciting 2007 championship and salivate, and then cry. It is quite a thing to want a championship more than anything in the world and then look as another franchise wins one and shrugs, "It's great, but it's not as great as the last one."
This is why Alabama and their ilk drive us crazy. They just can't appreciate a title as much as the rest of us would appreciate one. If Alabama beats Clemson on Monday night (8 p.m. ET on ESPN), this is what its championship game appearances will have looked like since Jan. 7, 2010:
2010: Alabama 37, Texas 21
2012: Alabama 21, LSU 0
2013: Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14
2016: Alabama 45, Clemson 40
2017: Alabama LARGER NUMBER, Clemson SMALLER NUMBER
Now, no one is going to cry for Texas, LSU, Notre Dame and Clemson, each among the most successful 20 college football programs of all time. But a victory in any of those games would have altered the entire history of those schools: Those championships would have been legendary. Heavens, can you imagine if Notre Dame had won that game in 2013? They'd still be selling 2013 College Football Champion Notre Dame commemorative glassware and limited edition coins to your grandparents. But for Alabama? That was just Another One.
And it's not just them. It's difficult for the rest of us not to have Alabama's titles sort of blend together, too. The most memorable Alabama title for us is probably last year's, just because it was the one title game that was close. (Though the Notre Dame destruction is difficult to forget, too.) You're always going to remember the breakthrough years more than the rote, Another One titles. Few can recollect many details of the 2012 or 2014 World Series, because they were just subsequent Giants titles to the first one. But you're going to be able to recite intricate details of the 2016 World Series, when the Cubs ended the longest championship drought in professional sports history, on your deathbed. It's just more fun to see somebody new win.
Now, it's also important to note that it's more fun to see somebody new win when they're defeating a team that regularly wins, or is supposed to win. If Clemson were to win its title over, say, LSU, or Florida State, it might not have quite the same oomph. Alabama's dominance has a public utility: It gets to serve as the bad guys in our plucky-heroes-overcoming-all-odds story. We don't want it to win this year, but it helps if it has won.
This isn't fair to Alabama and its fans, of course: They just want their team to win. Trust me, all those Cubs fans who spend the last 100 years begging for just one championship, please, just one, they're going to be just as lustful for another one in the years ahead as any other team's fans. One championship never sates anyone: It just makes you want more. Alabama fans have nothing to apologize for.
But we have nothing to apologize for being sick of them and wanting them to go down either. The fact is: The only way that Monday's game ends up being one of those legendary games that no one ever forgets is if Clemson wins. You can make a strong argument that the three college football powers most desperate for a championship are Notre Dame (none since 1988), Georgia (1980) and Clemson (1981). (You could maybe throw Michigan in there too, because they're lunatics.) A win on Monday would mean everything to Clemson. It would provide revenge after a crushing loss last season. (Nick Saban's onside kick might end up being the signature moment of his career.) It would put a cap on Deshaun Watson's career and assure that he'll never pay for a meal in South Carolina again; no matter what he does in the NFL, he'll be a god there forever. And it would cement Clemson's place in the college football hierarchy. This century, only Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Miami, Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC and Texas have won championships. That's a list Clemson feels it belongs on. This is the Tigers' best chance, and maybe last chance for quite some time, to do it. It would change how we talk about Clemson, about Dabo Swinney, about Watson, about everything.
If Alabama wins, it's just another Alabama championship. But if Clemson wins, it's a fundamental shift in the college football landscape and an experience that its fans will lose their minds over. That's what makes a title memorable. That's what makes it stick in our heads.
And that way, Clemson can have its moment, and then we can cheer against it in any future title games so someone else can have their moment. You only get to break through once. Ask Alabama. After all, when the Crimson Tide won in 2009, it was their first title since 1992, a 17-year drought.
Their fans went nuts. You couldn't help but be happy for them. But only briefly.