How Joe Maddon and the Cubs inspired Clemson coach Dabo Swinney

How Joe Maddon and the Cubs inspired Clemson coach Dabo Swinney

Joe Maddon and the Cubs may have a hand in another championship.

As Clemson gets set for a rematch with Alabama in the college football national championship game Monday night, Tigers coach Dabo Swinney reflected on a day he spent at Wrigley Field that changed the course of his season.

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Swinney and Clemson assistant coaches Brent Venables and Marion Hobby were in Chicago for the NFL Draft in April and decided to check out a Cubs game.

Swinny explains the rest:


This is a true story. Joe Maddon would kill me for saying this because we've kind of become buddies and we text a little bit.

But I called my agent and I said, 'Hey, man, we're going up to the Draft' and I said, 'Would you happen to know anybody that could maybe get me and Venables and Hobby some tickets to the Cubs game?' He goes, 'Well, I know Joe Maddon.' And I go, 'Who's Joe Maddon?' He went, 'He's the manager.' I go, 'That's a pretty good guy to know.' 

So Joe Maddon hooked us up with [Cubs traveling secretary Vijay Tekchandani] and so we ended up going in. So there was this rain delay. Next thing I know, Vijay gave us a tour, and then he takes us into the locker room and I really didn't know many of these guys, but as it turns out, man, these guys are huge football fans.

Jon Lester comes right up to me and they're all like, 'Hey coach, how are you doing?' And Jon Lester's wife is a Clemson grad and he's from Georgia. Just kind of sat around and talked to all those guys. It was really neat to meet him. That shortstop [Addison Russell], he looked like my son. He was like this young kid and watching those guys get ready for the game. What's that pitcher's name? Arrieta? Arrieta was on the mound but he was off doing Zen somewhere getting ready.

So there's this rain delay, not sure if they're going to play, so I'm walking around, I've got a chance to kind of see the culture there and I was like, "Man, this is really cool. These guys are loose, they know they've got a good team.' And so I ended up going around and they take me to meet Joe. So I go meet Joe and I walk in his office and he's got his baseball pants on and he's got this shirt on that says 'Try Not to Suck' and I'm like, he's big. I'm like, this is Joe Maddon.

So we talked for a minute and he's like, 'Hey man, I watched your team and watched you guys last year' and we kind of have an instant connection. It was really neat. I told him, 'You need to know this' because I had met his players and been around, 'You guys have a great culture. I'm telling you, you've got a winning culture here. You've got a good - just feel - in this building. You can smell it.'

They knew they had the best team and I think they embraced that. They embraced that. Don't run from that. It kind of resonated with me and when I came back and I kind of got off this summer and had a little time, that was one of the things I came back and I told the guys Day 1: 'Listen, everybody has been telling us we're this target. Well, we are the target, but let's embrace that. For us at Clemson, best is the standard. So if Clemson is the target, best is the standard. So let's focus on being the best we can be. Let's be committed to that and let's embrace that. Let's run right to it.'

Our guys bought into that and then I've always told the guys, my message has already been, 'Hey, don't lose to Clemson. If we don't lose to Clemson, we've got a chance here.'

(h/t Chicago Sun-Times for the photo)

That is some story, and crazy how connected the sports world is.

Also, Swinney's story is rife with awesome little nuggets, like how he didn't know who Joe Maddon was and how Arrieta was "off doing Zen somewhere" before his start.

Just more proof the 2016 Cubs will be remembered forever.

Preview: Cubs aim for sweep tonight on CSN

Preview: Cubs aim for sweep tonight on CSN

The Cubs take on the Pittsburgh Pirates tonight, and you can catch all the action on CSN and live streaming on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports App.

First pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies is scheduled for 6 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester (0-0, 2.66 ERA) vs. Tyler Glasnow (0-1, 7.94 ERA)

Click here for more stats to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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Kyle Hendricks outduels Gerrit Cole in Cubs win

Kyle Hendricks outduels Gerrit Cole in Cubs win

PITTSBURGH (AP) Kyle Hendricks rediscovered his 2016 form, limiting the Pittsburgh Pirates to four hits over six innings to outduel Gerrit Cole and lead the Chicago Cubs to a 1-0 win on Tuesday night.

Hendricks (2-1) struck out two and walked three in easily his best start this year. The struggling Pirates managed just four singles off Hendricks and didn't reach third base until he was out of the game. Wade Davis worked a perfect ninth for his fifth save as the Cubs won for the sixth time in seven games.

Addison Russell doubled in the second off Cole (1-3) and scored when second baseman Alen Hanson airmailed first base on a Jason Heyward grounder, the Pirates' major league-high 20th error this season. They've also allowed 15 unearned runs, the most in the big leagues.

The miscue spoiled a terrific outing by Cole. He struck out eight without issuing a walk and retired 14 of his final 15 batters. It wasn't enough for Pittsburgh, which has lost six of eight.

Hendricks became the first Cubs pitcher in nearly 80 years to lead the majors in ERA last year (2.13) but entered at 6.19 after three lackluster starts. It dropped to 4.50 after he spent six innings keeping the Pirates off balance with a steady diet of breaking balls and changeups .

It was the second straight strong start for the defending World Series champions, who have spent the last week riding their offense to shake out of an early pitching funk. The Cubs' pitching did the heavy lifting while Cole dominated the highest-scoring team in the majors.

Russell's double and a two-out infield hit by Kris Bryant in the sixth was all the Cubs managed against the Pittsburgh ace, who is hoping to put an injury plagued 2016 behind him. After giving up five runs in a loss to Boston on opening day, Cole has surrendered just seven runs over his last 25 innings, a 2.52 ERA.

Pittsburgh had a chance to tie the score when John Jaso led off the seventh with a double against Koji Uehara. Jaso advanced to third on a fly ball but was stranded when Hanson struck out and pinch-hitter Jose Osuna flied to center.