San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch pulled some strings to help his new Bay Area adversary over the weekend. Oakland Raiders general manager Mike Mayock, whose hiring was made official last week, tried at the last minute to gain a credential for the College Football Playoff national title game at Levi’s Stadium on Monday night.
But the strict credentialing window was closed, even for one of the NFL’s 32 most powerful personnel executives with a lengthy career as an analyst at the league’s powerhouse television network.
So Lynch dialed some high-ranking 49ers executives to get Mayock in the building. The game featured a vast collection of college talent, including Clemson’s coveted pass rusher Clelin Ferrell, who embraced the spotlight following the Tigers’ 44-16 beat-down of top-ranked Alabama.
“We had a dominant performance,” Ferrell told The Bee, with purple and orange confetti streaming down on the field. “Obviously, Alabama has a lot of good players, but it’s all about the team. We dominated. That’s all that really matters.”
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The 49ers and Raiders could draft a talented pass rusher off the edge who’s capable of dominating. San Francisco might consider Ferrell at No. 2 in the NFL draft while Mayock’s Raiders pick fourth after dealing star defensive end Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears.
Ferrell made one of the final big defensive plays of the game, stopping Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa on fourth and goal at the 2-yard line to keep Clemson ahead by 28 in the fourth quarter.
“Our team needed a play,” Ferrell said. “I kind of just remember the formation from watching (film). I kind of sniffed that one more. That meant a lot to our team, for sure.”
Clemson’s statement was loud and clear. It dethroned Nick Saban’s program and looks like it won’t go away anytime soon.
Freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence (20 of 32, 347 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions) has two years left before he’s eligible for the draft. Based on Monday’s performance, Lawrence is a favorite to be drafted first overall when he comes out.
Lawrence’s promising future, along with a supremely talented roster littered with top recruiting classes, led to Ferrell making an epic recruiting pitch on the stage after Clemson was awarded the championship trophy.
“If you want to come to a program,” Ferrell yelled into the microphone in front of a national television audience, “where you got to worry about your coach all up in the locker room, dancing, come to Death Valley!”
The reference, of course, was to former Death Row Records executive Suge Knight at the 1995 Source Awards, when he called out Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs and made a pitch for music artists to join the West Coast label.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was unfamiliar with the reference, despite being known for his dancing, but had a ringing endorsement for what Ferrell could bring at the next level.
“If he goes pro, he’s going to bring anything and everything,” Swinney said, including Ferrell in group of leaders that helped bring Clemson its second title in three years. “... I told them, ‘You’ve led us all year, got to lead us tonight.’ So I’m just super proud of them, and I know they’re going to love and enjoy this but go on and do great things.”
Ferrell likely won’t be around to see if his viral recruiting pitch worked. The redshirt junior is expected to be an early first-round pick in April, though he hadn’t ruled out returning for his senior season.
“I’ll sit down with my family, man, and make a decision. It’ll be a tough one. How can you leave something like this?” he said. “But I’ll get a decision made within the next week or so.”
Aside from his crucial fourth-down stuff, Ferrell worked mostly to a stalemate against Alabama top prospect Jonah Williams, the left tackle who played at Folsom High School. There was one moment in the first quarter when Ferrell overpowered Williams and hit Tagovailoa to force an incompletion.
Ferrell finished with four tackles (two solo) and 1.5 tackles for loss but didn’t register a sack, leaving him with a career-best 11.5 on the season.
Clemson’s superiority, and Alabama’s scattered performance, were both startling. Lawrence hitting receiver Justyn Ross for a 74-yard touchdown in the third quarter made Levi’s Stadium shake while Tiger fans packed on the North side brought the vibe of Death Valley to the Bay Area.
The atmosphere was raucous, particularly during an exciting first half that saw three lead changes.
However, there were empty seats throughout the stadium, likely to due to the fear of rain, the distance of the campuses from Santa Clara and the cost of traveling to the Bay Area.
Clemson won where 49ers legend Dwight Clark, a Clemson alum, is honored with a statue on the North side of the stadium. Clemson’s end zone, fittingly, was the same end zone where the 49ers marked Clark’s play, “The Catch,” from the 1981 NFC title game at Candlestick Park.
Former 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame on Monday and was on the field for the coin toss. He received a loud ovation during a video interview on the jumbotron in the second half.
The game went without a hitch, and the 49ers hope to have high-stakes games of their own in Januarys down the road.
Perhaps Mayock will have the credentialing process down by then. Perhaps Ferrell will be suited up in red and gold.