(WSPA) – The sports team at WSPA has created a ‘Top 10 Moments in Clemson Athletics History’ countdown. Starting Tuesday, April 14 we will be revealing portions of the list daily on WSPA Channel 7 News and online at wspa.com leading up to the top moment in Tigers history. Be sure to follow along as we break down these monumental achievements featuring interviews with former Clemson Sports Information Director and longtime color analyst Tim Bourret, who’s still heard on their radio network and works with the Clemson sports department covering Tigers Golf.
#4: 1984/1987 Men’s Soccer National Titles
Two national titles in a four-year span is a feat not often achieved by even the most dominant college programs regardless of the sport. The Clemson Tigers of the mid-’80s were a dynasty led by longtime head coach Dr. I.M. Ibrahim, otherwise known as ‘Ibe’ (pronounced EEB). The championship victories validated a program that had sustained success for over a decade, but hadn’t quite reached its peak. Those teams featured superstar Bruce Murray, who was later named to the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
1984 Championship Season
In 1984 the Clemson Tigers Men’s Soccer team was already an established program within the college ranks under Ibe. Ibrahim resurrected the program in 1967 and within a few years built a winning culture. Between 1972 and 1983, the Tigers won the ACC title 10 times, reaching the NCAA Tournament in 11 of those 12 seasons.
“Coach Ibrahim was a terrific coach and had taken Clemson to the Final Four many times, but just couldn’t quite get over the hump,” said former Clemson Sports Information Director Tim Bourret. The Tigers had reached the championship game once under Ibrahim.
But in 1984 the program received a boost in the form of a freshman forward named Bruce Murray.
“He was kind of a program changer,” said Bourret.
Murray’s impact was felt immediately and the Tigers secured significant wins to start the season, defeating number two UConn, 5-0, in the opener, and then Mercer, 6-1, a few days later. What followed, however, were two straight losses to UCLA and Indiana in Bloomington.
Going into the final week of September Clemson was 5-3. But Coach Ibrahim made an adjustment, shifting his scheme to a more aggressive approach.
The Tigers engineered a 10-game winning streak. They finished the season winning 12 of their final 13 contests, moving to 17-4. And those wins didn’t come easily. Clemson faced its most difficult schedule to date, battling seven top-20 teams. But the road to a national title was an even tougher hill to climb.
“We got into the NCAA tournament and had an unbelievably difficult draw,” said Bourret. “To get there we had to beat the number four, three, two, and one seeds in the entire tournament. At the time, it was the only time a school had done that in any NCAA Championship.”
In the first round Clemson took on NC State, a team the Tigers had beaten in the regular season finale. A close match in Raleigh ended with a late goal by Murray, catapulting the Tigers to the second round with a 2-1 win.
Next up was Alabama A&M. Clemson tallied three goals in the opening 20 minutes, but along with the surge came a significant blow as goalkeeper Tim Genovese was lost for the remainder of the tournament due to an injury. Walk-on Shawn Cartmill stepped in as the Tigers went on to win, 3-1.
In his first postseason start, Cartmill answered the bell in a shutout win over Virginia, 1-0.
Oddly enough, Clemson had its most convincing win in the semifinals against UCLA. The Tigers routed the Bruins, 4-1, advancing to the championship for the second time in program history.
The title game took them to the Kingdome in Seattle, Washington to take on the two-time defending national champion Indiana Hoosiers.
The game was tied 1-1 going into the final two minutes of play. That’s when John Lee found the back of the net off a header, clinching the national title.
“It was a thrilling game in the [Kingdome],” said Bourret.
The win put them on a run that resulted in another championship just three years later.
1987 Championship Season
After their national championship in 1984, the Tigers suffered early exits in the NCAA Tournament the next two seasons. In 1987, though the wins were there, they were not as easily attainable as it appeared for that ‘84 squad.
“That year, though, we had kind of struggled. Had some tough losses, lost early in the ACC Tournament,” said Bourret.
The Tigers finished the regular season 13-4-1, but had just one conference win at 1-4-1. Along with it came another disappointment in the ACC Tournament. Clemson lost, 2-1, to North Carolina in overtime, and a national championship seemed to be a lofty expectation.
Twenty-four teams were invited to the NCAA Tournament, and Clemson snuck in at number 23.
The Tigers narrowly defeated Evansville in the opening round, but a daunting task was right around the corner as they headed to Indiana to take on a top-seeded Hoosier team that hadn’t lost a playoff game at home in its history.
Murray, now a senior, came to the rescue late in the match. His second-half goal put Clemson in front, 2-1, in what proved to be the game-winner. Murray was at his best in the tournament, and he continued his dominance against Rutgers in the quarterfinals. Murray scored two goals, and Genovese came through with a game-clinching stop, as the Tigers punched their ticket to the Final Four with a 3-2 victory.
In 1987, the NCAA announced a change of venue for the Final Four.
“They were not satisfied with the attendance when we won out in Seattle,” said Bourret. “There was nobody there to see Clemson and Indiana play for the national championship in this big, huge football stadium.”
The organization decided to have one of the semifinal teams as host for the event and with Clemson’s Historic Riggs Field having been recently refurbished it was the perfect location.
Over 6,000 fans witnessed Clemson defeat North Carolina, 4-1, in the semis behind two Pearse Tormey goals. And, oddly enough, the 23rd-seeded Tigers were set to take on number 24 San Diego State in the championship.
“Eight-thousand fans showed up. There were people everywhere on the banks over there at Riggs Field, it was just a fantastic atmosphere,” said Bourret.
The battle of the underdogs went to the Tigers, who shut out the Aztecs, 2-0. Clemson grabbed its second national championship in four years.
“It was just a terrific era. Two national championships in a four-year period,” said Bourret. “The only time that’s been duplicated now in Clemson sports history was the Tiger Football team winning two out of three years recently.”
Murray won the Harmann Award that season, given to the most valuable player in college soccer. And Ibrahim became the first coach in Clemson athletic history to secure two national championships.
“He and Dabo [Swinney] now are the only coaches in our history with two national championships,” said Bourret. “He really turned the program into something that’s a solid program today.”
Those successes put the program on a course of excellence leading up to today. The Tigers have made the tournament in six of the last seven seasons.
But 1987 is still its most recent championship team.
Clemson Top Ten List: