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Sports >  NCAA football

Clemson-Alabama IV has precedents in other sports

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 4, 2019

While most of the players have changed since Alabama won the first meeting for the championship in January 2016, the coaches, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Alabama’s Nick Saben, have remained the same. (Chris Carlson / AP)
While most of the players have changed since Alabama won the first meeting for the championship in January 2016, the coaches, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Alabama’s Nick Saben, have remained the same. (Chris Carlson / AP)
By Josh Dubow Associated Press

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – LeBron vs. Steph in the spring, Dabo vs. Nick in the winter.

As much as Cleveland and Golden State became annual opponents in the NBA Finals before James left the Cavaliers last summer to join the Los Angeles Lakers after losing the title for the third time in four years to Curry and the Warriors, Clemson and Alabama have squared off in the winter to help determine college football’s champion.

The Tigers are set to square off against the Crimson Tide for the fourth consecutive year in the College Football Playoff in Monday night’s title game. While most of the players have changed since Alabama won the first meeting for the championship in January 2016, the coaches have remained the same.

Alabama’s Nick Saban won the championship the first year before Clemson’s Dabo Sweeney got his first championship a year later. The Tide won in the semifinals last season and now the teams are set to meet again.

“There are going to be a lot of similarities as far as the blueprint of the game plan because the head coaches are the same,” Mount Union coach Vince Kehres said.

If anyone knows what Alabama and Clemson are going through this week, it would be the staffs that were at Mount Union and Wisconsin-Whitewater when they played for the Division III championship seven straight years from 2005-11.

Kehres was defensive coordinator under his father, Larry, during that run when Mount Union won the first two meetings and three of the first four. Whitewater then took the next three titles before Mount Union beat St. Thomas of Minnesota in 2012.

The Raiders then resumed the rivalry with Whitewater the following year with the younger Kehres as head coach, but Whitewater won those two meetings as well.

“You’re certainly more prepared for the fact that you may play them based on the fact that you have played them so many times,” Vince Kehres said. “As soon as you know it’s a done deal, that game plan is already kind of set. Then you’re just tweaking as you get those tapes and you look at the most recent days.”

Here are some other noteworthy matchups that happened in four straight postseasons from around the sports world:

Sibling rivalry: While it doesn’t quite count as postseason matchups, Venus and Serena Williams squared off for the title at four straight tennis majors starting with the 2002 French Open that Serena won in straight sets for her second career grand slam title.

Gridiron greats: Few rivalries were as heated as the one between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders in the 1970s. The games were physical, memorable and often impacted the championship. It got so intense that Pittsburgh coach Chuck Noll referred to Raiders safety George Atkinson as part of the “criminal element” in football, leading to an unsuccessful defamation suit.

Kings of the court: There have been several NBA rivalries that featured four straight playoff meetings, including when Bill Russell’s Celtics took three out of four Eastern Conference finals from Wilt Chamberlain and the 76ers from 1965-68.

The Knicks and Bulls squared off each year from 1991-94 with Michael Jordan and Chicago taking the first three and Patrick Ewing and New York winning the fourth when Jordan was playing baseball.

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