This year’s national championship game between Clemson and Alabama has an interesting story line. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney attended Alabama in the late 80’s and early 90’s, living with his mother in dirt cheap housing.
His success proves being a “mama’s boy” is no death sentence. In fact, according to Swinney, the University of Alabama was the thing that created a bond with his mother that lives in his heart today.
His mother Carol looks back with fondness. “I wouldn’t trade anything for it. I wouldn’t. It was really some of the happiest times of my life because we were together, we were safe and we were happy,” he said.
The two lived in Unit 81 in the old Fountainbleau Apartments. Economically strapped, the $130 rent was what impressed them, and allowed Swinney to focus on his education. I’m sure his mama’s cooking helped a little too.
“I was the house mother,” Carol said. “I’d make chicken and dumplings, that was their favorite. Chili. Chocolate chip cookies. They’d all come over then.”
His dad, Ervil, succumbed to domestic and alcohol abuse after his business fell apart.
For Dabo, it was like living in a single parent house.
“I come from the most screwed-up dysfunctional situation,” Swinney said. “You’ve got violence. Police at your house. Your dad’s gone. Nowhere to live. I was humiliated. I was prideful. I didn’t want people to know we weren’t this perfect family. But you reach a point where you just don’t care anymore.”
Dabo and his mom were homeless his senior year of high school. They couch surfed and slept numerous nights side by side in his mother’s car.
It was that grit and hustle, that developed the man into a phenomenally unyielding football coach. He’s resurrected Clemson from an average at best conference competitor to now, a nationally acclaimed program–a champion level team.
His mother’s life has improved also. She remarried in 1998 to an insurance broker, and lives close to the Parisian apartment store she worked at in Tuscaloosa.
The irony is that life intersects in so many ways, even your competitor is somehow someone who has positively or negatively impacted your life. It proves how interconnected we all are. Remember that next time you turn a blind eye to a homeless man. He could be a soon-be Dabo Swinney, beating you for a future promotion.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports