KENNER, LA – The championship countdown has started to feel like it's on — at last.
No. 1 LSU and No. 3 Clemson arrived in New Orleans on Friday for the College Football Playoff title game after nearly two weeks of waiting, healing and prepping after their semifinals wins.
Clemson (14-0, No. 3 CFP) chartered two Delta jetliners for the two-hour flight. The team left a few minutes later than its scheduled time, but arrived only about five minutes or so late to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.
When the door to the airliner opened two Clemson flags were held at the top of the mobile stairway. Clemson players and coaches stepped onto a windswept orange carpet — airport personnel had to stand on the edges to keep it grounded as a brass band played.
“Only in New Orleans," Clemson starting tackle Tremayne Anchrum said with smile.
It seems like everyone involved — and maybe some who aren't — are happy the wait is almost over.
It was Dec. 28 when LSU (14-0; No. 1 CFP) dispatched Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl 63-28 and Clemson rallied from 16-points down to eliminate Ohio State 29-23 in the semifinals.
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence wanted to get right back at it before waking up sore the following morning and knowing he and his teammates needed the rest.
Now, it's a different story, Anchrum said.
The players were giddy on the flight, nervous energy in store as they attempt to conclude a second straight, 15-0, national-title winning season.
“It's been a long season and it feels like championship season right now," he said.
Anchrum said all those nursing bumps and bruises — noting everyone was nursing bumps and bruises — players feel as healthy, confident and prepared as they have all season.
“After that long fought game in Arizona, we're ready to get back to it," he said.
LSU, making its first trip to the CFP championship game, has had to manage the massive expectations of playing the contest just 90 minutes from its campus.
The team had planned on making the short air jump to The Big Easy before problematic weather had players boarding buses for the drive to their downtown hotel.
They arrived with a loud police motorcycle escort in a caravan of eight large tour buses with CFP logos. Coach Ed Orgeron was first off, waving to a few dozen fans calling his name and chanting, “L-S-U, L-S-U."
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow also was cheered as he walked into the hotel. Once in the lobby, more fans awaited along with a band playing LSU's version of “Tiger Rag” (the Clemson Tigers have a faster rendition).
Burrow has said it was important for his team to handle the emotions of wanting to win, not just for themselves, but their state and fans.
“A game like this you just have to stay in your routine and don't stray from it," the Heisman Trophy winner said last week.
Clemson linebacker Chad Smith, the defensive MVP of the Fiesta Bowl, said the team was ready to handle LSU's explosive offense.
'"It's process. We're excited to play," he said. “We've got one more day to preparation. We're looking forward to it.”
Smith said the time between games has gone quickly, adding things began to drag Friday when reality set in that the game was finally upon them.
“I feel like it's probably going to be that way up until game time," he said.
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