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  • If the national championship game comes down to what's underneath the helmet, Clemson and Alabama will be just as evenly matched as many expect. Plus, the best lines from CFP media day, Somali food in Santa Clara and the rest of a title-game preview edition of Punt, Pass & Pork.
By Andy Staples
January 07, 2019

Before leaving Clemson last week to travel to California for the national title game, quarterback Trevor Lawrence finally broke. No, he didn’t give away any of the game plan the Tigers will use for their third national title matchup with Alabama in four seasons, but Lawrence did reveal the information the public has clamored for ever since he became Clemson’s starter in late September.

“Pantene,” Lawrence said. “That’s what I use.”

There you have it. The care of the glorious blond mane that starts at Lawrence’s head and cascades down to the 6'6", 215-pound freshman’s shoulders is entrusted not to some overpriced specialty product available only in the finest salons. No, the most famous head of hair in college football is maintained by something available at your local grocery store or pharmacy. This fits with the low-maintenance reputation Lawrence has developed since he arrived at Clemson this time last year, but does it puncture the Samson mystique that has surrounded Lawrence since he was the nation’s top-rated quarterback prospect at Cartersville (Ga.) High?

Tee Higgins has hypothesized that it isn’t power that Lawrence draws from his hair. Rather, a rub of the locks imparts a calmness unmatched by any quarterback except Tua Tagovailoa, who will be standing on the opposite sideline Monday. But here’s the thing about Lawrence’s hair. It might not be the best ’do on the field at Levi’s Stadium.

That honor might belong to Alabama walk-on tight end Giles Amos. Amos, a 6'4", 242-pounder from Perry, Ga., started his career in Tuscaloosa looking like this. He got his hair cut the day after Alabama lost 35–31 to Clemson in the national title game two years ago. He hasn’t cut it since. Now, dark waves roll past Amos’s shoulders. Unlike Lawrence, Amos has a more complex care routine that combines TRESemmé product and a wet brush. “It’s about a 30-minute process,” says Amos. This makes sense. It’s always about The Process at Alabama. “At this point, I’m too attached to my hair,” Amos says. “I’ve been doing it for so long. It’ll be hard to cut it whenever. Until somebody really important to me tells me to cut it, I’m going to keep it going.”

Amos has competition in his own locker room, though. Walk-on defensive lineman Taylor Wilson was in high school at Mater Dei in Santa Ana, Calif., when he wondered one day what might happen if he let his hair just grow. He’d had long hair as an elementary schooler, but it hadn’t looked quite right. But when Wilson grew it out this time, it curled into a lush pile of precise ringlets. And it is outstanding. “Oh yeah,” Wilson says. “That’s all we breed, baby. The best. We’ve all got amazing hair over here.”

While the play of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and defensive tackle Quinnen Williams have made Alabama the point-spread favorite to win Monday, Amos and Wilson give the Crimson Tide a fighting chance in the under-the-helmet competition against a stacked Clemson roster.

We already know about Lawrence, who started growing out his hair in high school. Miller Forristall, who was Cartersville High’s QB1 before a short-haired Lawrence showed up, remembers that well. Not long after Lawrence supplanted Forristall—who switched to tight end and played that so well he earned a scholarship to Alabama—Lawrence begin letting it flow. “I had really short hair my freshman year, and then I just decided to grow it out, and it kind of stuck,” Lawrence says. “So I just left it.” It wasn’t that easy, though. “You’ve got short hair and you look fine. You’ve got long hair and you look fine,” Forristall says. “But you go through this weird awkward phase in between. He battled through it for a while, but he looks good now.”

But does he look as good as his center? “You’re overlooking Justin Falcinelli,” Clemson backup quarterback Chase Brice says. “He’s really worked on it and put a lot of time into it.” And it’s true. Falcinelli only started growing his hair out last year, but in that short time he’s developed a mane that makes he and Lawrence the best quarterback-center hair battery in America. “We do have a tight bond,” Falcinelli says of his relationship with Lawrence. “But hair, we have a little competition.” Lawrence may soon win by default if Falcinelli’s girlfriend gets her way. “She kind of wants it shorter now,” Falcinelli says. “But I’m committed.”

Lawrence doesn’t think he even has the best hair on Clemson’s team. That title belongs to the guy with the hair Falcinelli calls the team's most “controversial.” “Cade Stewart,” Lawrence says. “He's got a nice mullet. You guys should go talk to him.”

Stewart, a 6'3", 310-pound offensive lineman from Six Mile, S.C., doesn’t have a nice mullet. He has a spectacular mullet.

Falcinelli contends that mulleted Notre Dame punter Tyler Newsome had the best hair in the College Football Playoff, but Stewart’s is more classically mulletastic. The business up front is kept quite tidy, and the party in the back flows straight down. And Stewart’s mullet also pays tribute.

Stewart’s uncle, Tony Stewart, died in a car crash in 2009. Uncle Tony always wore a mullet, and he was so beloved that his funeral at Gap Hill Baptist Church was standing-room only. Cade Stewart’s parents wouldn’t allow him to wear anything but a buzz cut for most of high school, but as college approached, Cade figured he’d be on his own and could wear his hair however he wanted. And he wanted his hair to look like Uncle Tony’s. So from that point forward, this is what he has told the barber.

Give me a fade on the sides.

Short on the top.

And don’t touch the back.

Like Lawrence, Stewart endured his awkward phase before his hair became truly magnificent. “It looked like a mohawk with just a lot of hair in the back for a while,” Stewart says. “Everybody’s like ‘What is that, man?’ But you’ve got to keep with it. You’ve got to have that sticktoitiveness.”

Monday night, the players with the most will be picking confetti out of their hair.

SI Expert Picks: Who Will Win the National Championship Game?

A Random Ranking

In honor of Stewart and his commitment to his chosen style, we’re ranking the top 10 mullets.

1. Travis Tritt

2. Billy Ray Cyrus

3. Barry Melrose

4. Mike Gundy

5. Rihanna

6. Richard Dean Anderson

7. Andre Agassi

8. Patrick Swayze

9. Lionel Richie

10. John Oates

Three and Out

As you can tell by the entire story about hair you just read, we’ve run out of things to ask about this game. Here are the three best answers from Saturday’s media day.

1. Here’s Nick Saban on Little Debbie cakes...

“Absolutely I brought them with me. I don't know why I like them so much, but I’ve been eating them for as long as I can remember, two, small kind, not the big ones with the gooey stuff, and one cup of coffee, 6:15 every morning watching The Weather Channel. That’s how we do it.”

2. Here’s Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell—with an assist from former Alabama coach Gene Stallings—with a gross metaphor.

“Yeah, it's all about finishing. It's all about finishing, man. Coach Swinney told us a joke yesterday from Gene Stallings, his former coach and it was the funniest thing I ever heard in my life. One of the realest things I ever heard in my life.

“He said: ‘You know, you got to this moment last year guys and that’s kind of like going to the bathroom, taking a dump, you know. You got the job done but you guys, you didn’t wipe so when you don’t wipe, it’s like you just didn’t finish.’ You got to finish, man. You got to finish the job. Finish the job, man, and that’s the realest thing because you know, it’s not just about getting here, man. At the end of the day you want to go out and win because those are memories that you can remember. You want to remember the great moments with the teammates, great moments with my brothers out there so that’s what we want to do. We want to finish the right way.”

3. Here’s Alabama linebacker Dylan Moses on who would win a fight between Batman and Spider-Man.

“I feel like Batman would probably win that battle, mainly because he’s very intelligent, he has a lot of gadgets. Spiderman has strength and spiderwebs, but I don’t feel like that can match up against Batman’s gadgets and whatnot.”

What’s Eating Andy?

After Monday night, there won’t be another college football game for more than eight months. You’ll be praying for a Cheez-It Bowl replay.

What’s Andy Eating?

Many of my favorite finds happen completely by accident, and Jubban in San Jose might be the happiest yet. I set out from my hotel Friday to buy a replacement for the iPhone charging cord that had died on me on the trip to California, and I overshot my destination at exactly the same time my desire for lunch overwhelmed my need for a battery level above 20%. So I scanned a list of nearby restaurants and found a picture of the Sports Plate.

I don’t know which sport the proprietors were referencing when they named this particular dish, but I can only assume it was competitive eating. It is a two-meat combo meant for two people that realistically could feed four. But this isn’t about quantity. This is about no-frills cuisine that satisfies in every conceivable way.

Andy Staples

I knew nothing about Somali food before I walked into Jubban. But I could see enough from the plates on the tables that I needed to order the goat cutlet and the beef suqaar. Both are spiced lightly and cooked simply with vegetables. The beef has a little chili powder kick. The combination of juicy meat, carrot, pepper and onion melds into a series of perfect bites that prove that ingredients don’t need to be fancy to create unforgettable flavor. Order a side of chapati—a soft flatbread similar to roti—to soak it all up.

Do not forget to walk around to the back counter for a cup (or eight) of the free hot tea. This may be the best cup of tea I’ve ever had. It’s sweet and spicy. There’s some cinnamon and some cardamom. I asked what else, but the lady at the register wasn’t giving up any secrets. “It’s like a million different things,” she said.

I don’t care what’s in it. I just want more. It warms the soul and clears the sinuses, and it’s the best way to wash down an unexpectedly incredible meal.

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