Longtime Sports Information assistant, historian will retire from Clemson at the end of the month
When he was a little boy and came to Clemson football games with his family, Sam Blackman always pestered his father about seeing the football team before they came running down the hill on the east side of Clemson Memorial Stadium.
Blackman loved the Tigers and he wanted to see and absorb every moment of his experiences in Death Valley.
“When is the team coming? When is the team coming,” Blackman would ask his father, who graduated from Clemson in 1933.
This of course was in the late 1960s. In those days the Tigers dressed at old Fike Field House and walked down Williamson Road to go down the hill on the east side of the stadium to access the field. Though it was an act of convenience at the time, it turned into a tradition that still stands today.
However, back then, the Tigers did not run down the hill minutes before kickoff like they do now. Instead they came down the hill an hour before for pre-game warmups. Over the years, it started to garner fanfare as Clemson fans greeted the team as they made their way down the hill.
A young Sam Blackman was always one of those fans.
“Back then they put green wind screen up on the hill and when the team started to come down Williamson Road from Fike, I could see the top of the helmets as they were walking down,” he recalled. “I could see them bouncing up and down over the fence and I could hear their cleats.
“I would say, ‘Dad! They are coming! They are coming!’ He would say, ‘Yeah, son! Let’s go watch them!’ He would carry me over there towards the edge and we would watch them. I remember seeing Coach (Frank) Howard run down the hill.”
Those are some of the first memories Blackman has with his life long love affair with Clemson athletics. Since the age of three years old, he has not missed a game in Death Valley, dating back to 1965. Since 1980, when he became a student at Clemson, he has not missed much of any sport, home or away, the Tigers have played.
Blackman has loved Clemson so much he has worked there since 1982 when he took over as an unpaid intern in the Sports Information Department following the Tigers’ 1982 Orange Bowl victory over Nebraska, clinching the school’s first national championship in any sport. One of his first assignments was clipping all the newspapers stories from the 1981 season and pasting them into a scrapbook.
“That was so much fun because I love to read newspapers, so to be able to go back and relive the whole season was fun,” Blackman said. “It took us the entire spring to do it, but I loved every second of it.”
Blackman later was hired as a full-time student worker, and alongside his sister, Karen, he worked under Hall of Famers Bob Bradley and Tim Bourret in the Sports Information Office. During those early years Blackman helped with volleyball, men’s soccer, men’s and women’s tennis, baseball, wrestling, men’s and women’s basketball and of course football.
“In everyone’s life there are people who went to a lot of trouble to help you, whether it is your parents, clergy, teachers or coaches,” Blackman said. “I have been lucky. I have had a lot of good people help me and train me along the way. Tim Bourret and Bob Bradley were two of those that helped me along the way.”
Even as a student worker, Blackman went above and beyond with his job. He noticed when working the volleyball games, there were no rosters available for the fans so he typed the rosters himself.
“These were in those days when schools did not always type up the roster so I would call the schools the day before and get their roster,” he said. “Some of them would not even know their own record so I would try to put up as much information as I could about them.
“I started doing rosters even for the tennis matches. I think if you go to a match, you need to know the names of the players and see the height, weight and where they are from and etc. I always tried to do that when I covered a sport. An informed fan is a happy fan. That is always what I thought.”
Those were the early begins of Blackman’s love affair with Clemson’s Olympic Sports. The Calhoun Falls native felt it was just as important to give the Olympic Sports credit as much as the football, basketball and baseball teams.
“We tried to make it as big as we could,” Blackman said.
Of course Blackman’s passion for research did not go unnoticed. Bourret recognized it and started having him look up the dates of every football and basketball games Clemson played so the media guides were a little more complete.
“I did a lot of that instead of working on my school work,” Blackman said jokingly. “Eventually, I found time to do both.”
Going through all the dates allowed Blackman to start a chronological history of Clemson Athletics. He started with the football and men’s basketball teams, but he eventually did it for every sport which can be found in his book Clemson: Where the Tigers Play.
“I started it because it would make the media guides that much better,” he said.
Blackman later became Clemson’s first graduate assistant in sports information in 1985 and then turned that into a regular position in 1987, which he has served ever since. Later this month, Blackman, along with his mentor, Tim Bourret, will retire after 36 years at Clemson.
When he first started in 1987, Blackman joined Bourret and Bradley as the only full-time employees in the Sports Information Office. These days, the Clemson Athletic Communications Office, formerly known as Sports Information, has 10 full-time employees.
“I was in charge of men’s soccer, women’s basketball, wrestling, men’s and women’s tennis and helped some with track and field,” Blackman said. “I also helped some with football and also did men’s and women’s cross country. I had a lot of activity. It was just Tim Bourret, myself and Mr. Bradley. We had some student assistants and eventually we had two grad students so that helped us a lot.”
Blackman admitted those early years were hard and he put in a lot of hours, but he also admitted he enjoyed it. Besides being a part of Clemson’s two national championships in football, Blackman was also a part of the Tigers’ 1984 and 1987 National Championship men’s soccer teams.
Actually, one of his fondest memories from his time at Clemson came from the 1987 soccer season.
“As a full-time employee that was the first big event that I had,” Blackman said. “Clemson hosted the Final Four that year, and we hosted media from all over, Mickey Plyler and I. He was a big help.
“Clemson was twenty third out of the twenty four teams selected for the NCAA Tournament that year. San Diego State was the twenty fourth. We went up and beat Evansville, Indiana and Rutgers and then in the semifinals we beat North Carolina and then beat San Diego State in the championship. We had a great team. We were led by Bruce Murray, who was just a wonderful leader and wonderful star.”
Blackman remembers how in the media guide that year head coach, Dr. I.M. Ibrahim, thought the 1987 season was going to be a rebuilding year.
“But they won the national championship. It was a storybook finish,” Blackman recalled. “It is something you will never forget. It was a wonderful feeling. That team came out of nowhere and won the national championship.”
The 1996 and 1999 ACC Championship seasons in women’s basketball are also special memories for Blackman, primarily because he became such good friends with longtime coach Jim Davis.
“That was just a great bunch to work with,” Blackman said.
Over the years, Blackman worked with some of the greatest coaches in Clemson history. He got the opportunity to work with Howard, who was retired but still had an office at Clemson. Of course he worked with Danny Ford and eventually Dabo Swinney.
But it was not just the great football coaches. He also worked with legendary baseball coach Bill Wilhelm, Ibrahim, legendary tennis coaches Chuck Kriese, Andy Johnston and Nancy Harris, and of course Davis.
Blackman’s closest relationships were with Ibrahim, Kriese and Davis.
“I have worked with some wonderful people,” Blackman said. “It has been fun and I could not ask for anything better.”
Over the years, Blackman has written many books on Clemson football and Clemson athletics as he has written about legends like Howard, Banks McFadden, Fred Cone, Steve Fuller and Deshaun Watson.
“I have been so blessed to work at Clemson. It has been so much fun to tell people about Clemson,” he said. “Over the years I did more research and I wanted to know more about how things started and some of the people from the past.
“I have spent a lot of time in a lot of library’s researching. I have enjoyed that part of it and have written some good books on Clemson athletics with some good co-authors.”
Blackman did it all with one goal in mine … to tell everyone else how wonderful Clemson is.
“That is what I always tried to do. I just did not want to let down those people that helped me along the way. I did not want to let them down so I tried to work hard and promote Clemson the best way I could.”
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