As a youngster Tim Bourret chose not to play for the Northwest Catholic High School football team in West Hartford, Conn., because its Saturday afternoon games would prevent him from listening to Notre Dame’s on the radio with his father.
Football was far better for his choice.
Bourret is a football savant of sorts, a walking Wiki with a rare, if not unique, connection to Saturday’s game in Death Valley. A graduate of the Notre Dame, he has been a member of the sports information department at Clemson for 37 years, currently serving as assistant athletic director for football communications.
For reporters and broadcasters covering Clemson, he is a treasure both for his seemingly encyclopedic recall of facts and history of both schools’ football programs and as a gracious and accommodating host to media from across country, a friend to some among the biggest names in the business.
Further defining him is an uncanny ability to mine threads of gold that enrich the tapestry of a game, almost like a leprechaun dropping nuggets into a pot of gold. For example: Notre Dame’s first appearance at Clemson was Oct. 3, 1977 – 1,977 weeks ago.
Bourret takes pride in discovering those gems, as much as he does the ability to recall the date and score of a particular game or the season rushing records for either team or that 36 players off the two rosters in 1977 went on to play in the NFL and win 14 Super Bowl rings.
Often, the ability to uncover those nuggets is the result of knowing where to look for them. As for his vast mental catalog, there’s no mystical reason. Part of it is quite simple.
“I’ve edited every Clemson press guide for 38 years. And I’ve got every Notre Dame press guide going back to 1964,” he said. “When I was eight years old I would get the books and read them, read the records. And in 1967 you could get a subscription to Notre Dame’s weekly press release, so every week Roger Valdiserri would mail me one.”
The first vivid memory of his life bore a mystical tie to Notre Dame, so Bourret believes there really wasn’t a choice. Following his father as a student at Notre Dame, he discovered his calling and during three years with the sports information department he lived out a dream by immersing himself in Notre Dame’s statistics, history and minutiae.
By happenstance he was assigned to the official party for the first football game between the two schools. Bourret remembered sitting next to sports information director Roger Valdiserri as the bus pulled up to Memorial Stadium two hours before kickoff. The hill was already filled with Clemson fans.
“What are we doing here?” Valdiserri wondered aloud, anticipating an ambush. Two years later when the teams played again in South Bend, Ind., Bourret would be at the game as a member of the Clemson sports information office.
Following a tip from a friend in North Carolina, Bourret came to work for Bob Bradley the summer of 1978 and here he has remained. Bourret succeeded Bradley as sports information director in 1989 but he nearly left in 1983 after accepting an offer from the University of Pittsburgh. Bourret fell ill and lost 25 pounds. His father suggested he probably didn’t want to leave Clemson. “You know, I think you’re right,” he said. “I called Pitt and told them I wasn’t coming.”
Bradley bought him the largest box of Ritz crackers he could find. “He said welcome back. You are now a Southerner.”
Valdiserri and Bradley emphasized the need to maintaining credibility with the media and that the personal approach to promoting the program or a particular athlete was more effective than the blanket approach. “And if you don’t have an All-American, don’t try to make one up.”
In addition to oversight of media relations and sports information, his career at Clemson included duties as the color voice of men’s basketball for 35 years and chairman of the Clemson Ring of Honor committee. His career has overlapped all four of Clemson’s national championships: football (1981), golf (2003) and men’s soccer (1984 and 1987).
In November 2007 the Clemson Alumni Association named him an honorary alumnus.
Notre Dame remains dear to him, and he follows the team faithfully. A close friend insists Bourret eats only a bowl of cereal after a Notre Dame loss as if he’s serving penance. Bourret laughs.
His father graduated from Notre Dame in 1948. The football team lost only two games while he was a student, so he eagerly passed the legend to his son introducing him to Saturday afternoons by the radio and the TV replay with Lindsey Nelson and Paul Hornung on Sunday after church.
During a summer vacation in 1966 the family stopped Notre Dame’s football offices, and the secretary allowed 10-year-old Tim to sit in Coach Ara Parseghian’s chair. Bourret believes that even with all that tangible influence, destiny put him at Notre Dame. He attended a few games when the Irish came East including a couple against Navy in Philadelphia but didn’t see a home game until 1972 during a visit his senior year of high school.
People have been asking for months which team he’ll “root” for Saturday night. First, rooting isn’t permitted in the Clemson press box, so everything will be internalized.
Bourret has known Dabo Swinney and every member of the team since they arrived on campus, so there’s a natural affinity.
“I don’t know the guys who play for Notre Dame, I don’t know Coach (Brian) Kelly,” he said. “Coach Swinney and I have a close relationship.
“I look at it this way. I’ll pull for Clemson, but I won’t pull against Notre Dame.”
TIGERS vs. IRISH
Who: No. 12 Clemson (3-0) vs. No. 6 Notre Dame (3-0)
When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson
Line: Pick ’em
Clemson-Notre Dame connections
Connecting the Clemson-Notre Dame dots over the past century, with thanks to sports information director Tim Bourret:
1. Former Notre Dame player Frank Shaughnessy became Clemson head coach in 1907, three years after he set the Notre Dame record for the longest scoring play.
2. Frank Leahy, Notre Dame coach 1941-1953, was at Boston College in 1939 when it lost to Clemson in the Cotton Bowl.
3. Banks McFadden of Clemson and Moose Krause of Notre Dame are two of eight major college athletes to earn All-America honors in football and basketball.
4. Clemson and Notre Dame finished the 1978 season tied for sixth in the United Press International coaches’ poll. Clemson has never tied in another poll.
5. Dwight Clark was a member of the 1977 Tigers team the first time Notre Dame played at Clemson. Joe Montana was a junior quarterback for Notre Dame. Two years later they were teammates on the San Francisco 49ers.