HOOVER, Ala. — Even Jadeveon Clowney has to marvel at his widely seen, helmet-popping, ball-jarring hit of Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl. But not anymore, Clowney doesn’t watch in awe of the play itself, but rather, how frequently it is shown – seemingly whenever he’s mentioned on television.
“I was happy at first, like, ‘Hey! I did that!’” he said Tuesday of his initial reaction to the hit. “Now, it’s like, ‘Oh, man, it’s still going on.’ But it’s a great honor to do something big like that and everybody recognize it.”
Such is the state of our viral video world: Become known for a clip, and it follows you forever, or at least for a long time.
Clowney said he first watched a replay of the hit on the sideline shortly after it happened, courtesy of a smart phone. On Wednesday night, a day after he spent much of his Southeastern Conference Media Days session reflecting on the hit, its publicity reached its zenith, when Clowney won Best Play at the ESPYs – ESPN’s annual sports award show.
Clowney, an All-American junior defensive end who will probably go first in next year’s NFL Draft, flew from SEC media days in Hoover, Ala., to Los Angeles for the award show, which was hosted by “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm. The winners were determined by online fan voting. Clowney’s signature moment – the one that most sports fans now know him for – beat NBA player DeAndre Jordan’s alley-oop dunk, Ray Allen’s 3-pointer for the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals and a 55-foot buzzer-beating heave by high school basketball player Khalil Edney.
What is often unmentioned about Clowney’s hit of Smith is that nobody blocked Clowney, because of a miscommunication on Michigan’s offensive line. While the hit of Smith produced a spectacular highlight, most rational football observers would not consider it Clowney’s best play of the season. A better contender would be his strip sack of Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, to clinch a 38-35 USC win. Bray’s helmet stayed on, but Clowney got to Bray by beating tackle Antonio Richardson, an elite player who handled him for much of the day.
“That was a big play,” Clowney said. “Everybody doesn’t really pay attention (to that play). It wasn’t a big hit, but it saved us in the last couple minutes of the game.”