Tag Archives: Cliff McCrath

When Falcons Took Flight

It’s been well over 30 years yet Peter Hattrup remembers rolling into a September 1983 practice.

Hattrup was a sophomore at Seattle Pacific University, and the Falcons were in Atlanta, wrapping up another extended early-season road trip. Having come directly from the airport to Georgia State’s training field, the players and coaches emptied out of their fleet of five shiny, black Lincoln Town Cars.

Trudging off the field following their own practice session, the Georgia State players were slack-jawed, to say the least.

From 1979 to 2000, Seattle Pacific regularly crisscrossed the country in search of games to satisfy NCAA standards.

“One guy said, ‘Damn, you guys travel in style. I thought it was the mafia pulling up,’” recalls Hattrup. “He asked how long we drove; I said we flew. Then he asked where we were staying; I said Peachtree Plaza. He said, ‘S***. You guys fly here and stay at the Plaza!?”

Indeed, for more than two decades SPU was easily the most traveled college soccer program on the planet. In an era when even the biggest D-1 powers were largely confined to the gas tank capacity of a school-issued van, the Falcons regularly crisscrossed the continent at 30,000 feet and drove the interstates in style.

This was no anomaly, no gimmick. Upon his hiring, coach Cliff McCrath was asked to create a national-class program in an area isolated geographically from soccer bastions. Furthermore, McCrath’s program was without a true home field for the first 29 seasons. To become the best requires rigorous tests. So, Seattle Pacific hit the road.

Up, Up and Away

An early season ritual, at first the road trip consisted of a handful of West Coast games. Soon enough, the Falcons took flight and eight dates became the norm, with destinations far, far away. Although 2,700 miles away, Miami was a frequent terminus.

Lincoln’s Town Car was synonymous with Seattle Pacific’s life on the road.

Even in this contemporary age where air travel has become an afterthought, only two in-state programs are slated to step foot inside the Eastern time zone this autumn. Combined, the Washington and Eastern Washington women will play four times. By comparison, during between 1981-94, five times SPU played four or more ET games on a single trip, not to mention other locales.

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The Gifts of Cliff McCrath

Wanted: Someone to supervise 300 kids 24/7 during summer, take 22 rowdy college boys cross-country to win a soccer championship in the fall, marry a couple on Saturday, christen a newborn on Sunday, keynote a corporate speech to hundreds first thing Monday and pull votes for a stadium initiative on Tuesday. Ten fingers not necessary. Sense of humor a must.

Unless your name happens to be Charles Clifford McCrath, there’s no need to apply.

Cliff McCrath often shares company with soccer’s royalty, in this instance Pelé.

On Saturday, Feb. 11, a true treasure of Seattle and soccer, Cliff McCrath, will be inducted into Seattle Pacific University’s Falcon Legends Hall of Fame. McCrath knows the drill. After all, it’s his 10th such enshrinement around the country.

Unlike the others, however, this will be celebrated on his turf, where since arriving 47 years ago he grew to be an outsized figure capable of accomplishing amazing feats for a sport that, at times, struggled to take hold.

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First, and Creating a Belief That Would Last

When Seattle Pacific soccer alumni of a certain age inevitably gather, there’s no shortage of stories.

From tales of seemingly endless cross-country road trips to innumerable narratives regarding their leader, Uncle Nubby, there is plenty of fodder. And while hundreds of alums experienced final fours and dozens contributed to the Falcons’ five championships, there’s a certain reverence for those who did it first.

Two overtimes? Actually it was three.

By winning the 1978 NCAA Division II championship, SPU set in motion a Puget Sound tidal surge that would extend for more than 15 years and, some would argue, unceasingly to this date.

Upon returning home from Miami in early December of ‘78, Falcons coach Cliff McCrath, a.k.a. Nubby, took fast action on two counts. The first remains the most sensational and storied publicity stunt in our soccer community’s long and distinguished history. The second was to affirm the source of bounty McCrath molded into champions.

It was plain to see that Seattle Pacific was the beneficiary of leadership and coaching throughout Washington youth soccer, so he immediately drafted a letter to the statewide association.

“Eight of the starters came from the area,” McCrath notes. “Effectively, this national championship belonged to them; it was dedicated to them because these were their players.”

Uncle Nubby Did What?

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SPU ’78: First & Foremost

Many will dream, some will endeavor, but only one can be the first.

While the Sounders may now place a star above their crest, the side that first planted a flag at the summit in the name of Seattle is now about to be celebrated all over again.

On Feb. 11 Seattle Pacific University will induct the team that not only ushered in an era when the Falcons became the Northwest’s most decorated collegiate program but, more importantly, established a beacon, a belief, that teams from Puget Sound could be the best in the nation.

Wearing mesh jerseys McCrath purchased the night prior, SPU poses with its first treasure.

For nearly the first hundred years of soccer’s existence in Washington, it was a wilderness. Try as they might, to the rest of the land teams from these parts were unfashionable wannabes: Competitive within the region, yet not championship material. In 1978, SPU changed all that.

Simply put, in one muggy, arduous afternoon under a scorching Miami sun, a bunch of shaggy-haired boys under the direction of a seven-fingered coach blazed a trail into the future of Seattle area soccer that generations have followed ever since.

A Formidable Foe

Now as then, the opposition is oft-referenced as the Nigerian junior national team. In truth, Alabama A&M’s roster was only about half-Nigerian. But most of them started and the balance were largely Jamaican. The Bulldogs were defending NCAA Division II champion and ranked No. 7 among all divisions nationally. They would retake the mantle in 1979 and two years later, in 1981, AA&M would be Div. I runners-up.

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