On a sheet of rubber covering the ice of an NHL hockey arena is where the serious journalism goes down.
It was particularly chilly Saturday morning in home of the San Jose Sharks when Clemson did its Olympics-Opening-Ceremony-style entrance with a few hundred fans clapping along with the fight song.
Don’t let the festive atmosphere fool you. College football’s Watergate lingered in that cool air of the SAP Center.
AL.com wasn’t leaving until we got some answers.
Does Hunter Renfrow lie?
The charge was filed the night of Jan. 1, 2018 in the hour after Alabama beat Clemson in a few particularly emotional exchanges with Crimson Tide defensive back Tony Brown. This goes all the way back to the previous January in Tampa where the Tigers beat Alabama for the national title.
To boil it down: Renfrow, a Clemson receiver, might have talked a little trash to Brown. Renfrow, who went on to catch the game-winning pass with Brown in coverage, said he apologized to the Alabama DB.
It’s that alleged apology that’s in play here.
“Hunter Renfrow,” Brown famously said to CBS-42 reporter Simone Eli, “he lied …”
A year later, that video has been viewed more than 664,000 times on Twitter.
But is it true?
“No, no,” said Will Swinney, a character witness/Clemson receiver/Dabo Swinney’s son. “Maybe he has in a video game before, but no.”
“He’s such a great guy,” said Drew Swinney, another character witness/Clemson receiver and Dabo Swinney’s other son. “He’s the most normal, unassuming guy you’ll ever meet. If you look at him, you obviously don’t think he’d be catching touchdown passes against Alabama in the national championship.”
Two for two.
Finally, we got to Renfrow himself.
A veteran of at least the last four College Football Playoffs, the 5-foot-10 senior had a crowd of reporters following his every move. AL.com got exactly 26 seconds alone with him.
“I mean,” Renfrow told AL.com, “I don’t think I lied.”
The jokes still follow him in the Clemson locker room, Will Swinney said. They definitely saw the video.
“You lie. You lie,” Will Swinney said teammates say in a joking manner sometimes when Renfrow walks by. “They make reference to it sometimes. It was kinda interesting. I think the whole thing was pretty much a miscommunication.”
The crossed-signal theory is a popular one.
“I think the whole thing was Tony didn’t read the full article,” Will Swinney continued. “He saw a clip of something he thought it said Hunter called to apologize but Hunter just said he apologized on the field for talking trash. Which obviously Hunter did. That’s like exactly something he would do.”
An interview with Brown in the locker room following his viral on-field moment seems to confirm at least some of that.
“I didn’t read the whole story,” Brown said Jan. 1, 2018, “but from what I heard he said, we were talking trash during the game and he felt bad about what happened during the game and he tried to contact me and it didn’t happen. That didn’t happen at all.”
Brown, however, denied the existence of the alleged on-field apology.
“Didn’t happen,” Brown said that night. “That didn’t happen at all. That was a complete lie, but like I said, I appreciate it. I love it. I love the lies he told.”
About to play his final collegiate game, Renfrow wasn’t returning fire. He said he didn’t lie and left it at that.
Renfrow also acknowledged the possibility of facing Brown, now a Green Bay Packer, again one day.
“He had the microphone and they won,” Renfrow told AL.com on Saturday, “so I couldn’t really say anything.”
And, even after Renfrow exited the frosty hockey rink, we were no closer to a definitive answer.
Classic he said, he said stuff.
We’ll keep digging.