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College Football in the Carolinas

View from the East
Monday, September 17, 2001

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Viewed from a Different Perspective,
Football Inches Back into Spotlight


Football is often a topic of conversation before church but that’s not what most people were thinking about at services this Sunday. In the place of how “your team” fared over the weekend, there was a sense of how “our team,” the United States, would respond to terrorist attacks.

Our church parking lot was almost full, an indication of how people turn to God in times of crisis. We all stood and joined hands inside the sanctuary for a prayer at the close instead of the regular benediction.

The violence perpetrated on our nation on Sept. 11 has grabbed our attention and relegated sports in general to secondary status in its aftermath.

And maybe that’s part of the good that can come out of these tragic circumstances. We pay too much attention sometimes to things that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things — like college football.

The period of mourning that followed the attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. resulted in the postponement of all games in Division I-A last week.

Not only were officials concerned about the issue of showing respect but there were obviously security concerns about airplane safety for traveling teams and the question of whether large crowds might provide inviting targets for other misguided zealots.

Apathy and Naiveté Were Factors

The issues of airplane safety and crowd security can be addressed but neither can be resolved in an absolute manner.

I’m reminded of something John Kennedy said about security while he was President. Kennedy said that there was little to be done in situations where somebody wanted to give his life in exchange for someone else's.

A few lives were exchanged for many in the unfortunate cases last week.

There have been movies made about potential crowd attacks at athletic events. We hope and pray we never see that become reality in the manner that the World Trade Centers were reminiscent of “The Towering Inferno” last week.

One crowd attack/disaster could change the world of sports as we know it. If it’s not safe for people to gather, what then? Big time athletics can’t sustain themselves financially without gate receipts.

I don’t mean to sound like an alarmist but it seems that apathy and naiveté were factors contributing to last week’s horrible circumstances.

But the wheels of the sports world appear ready to turn again and South Carolina hopes the skies will be friendly as the Gamecocks prepare for a Thursday night game on ESPN at Mississippi State.

The South Carolina team that will likely be the first to fly in the aftermath of the aerial tragedies will do so on a charter 727.

Air Travel Risks Not Limited to Terrorism

ECU athletics director Mike Hamrick noted last week that the Pirates always fly charter. Doing so offers greater control of access to the flight, an added benefit to convenience in light of the recent events.

Credit South Carolina coach Lou Holtz for sounding courageous. Facing Boise State or Bowling Green may send him into a state of panic, but he’s pragmatic about facing some elements of real danger.

“A coward dies a thousand deaths,” Holtz said. “You can’t go around worried about this or that. You put your faith in the people in the airline that say it’s safe. Then you get on an airline and you go.”

Terrorists don’t have to be part of the equation for airline travel to have disastrous results. After Marshall’s game at ECU in 1970, 36 Thundering Herd players and 39 coaches, administrators, fans and crew were killed in a crash on the return flight.

The issue presented itself last year with the crash of a small jet carrying some members of the Oklahoma State basketball team and support personnel.

ECU coach Steve Logan once had to make an emergency landing in a farm field near Goldsboro due to mechanical problems.

Boxer Rocky Marciano, golfer Tony Lema, baseball player Thurman Munson, and golfer Payne Stewart are among noted sports figures to be killed in airplane crashes.

“When you see what happened in New York and Washington, you have to think about it,” said South Carolina running back Derek Watson. “We’ll get on a plane but I’m not looking forward to it.”

One of the beauties of sports is that it can create anxiety without severe consequences.

Sports often provides a mass catharsis. The worst that can usually happen in a tight situation is that your team loses. But the sun comes up the next day and life goes on.

ECU Faces Airborne Attack of a Different Variety

Hopefully and prayerfully, the biggest danger ECU will face this week is a talented I-AA team, William & Mary. The Tribe is off to a 2-0 start and is ranked No. 19 among I-AA teams.

Quarterback David Corley can throw and W&M coach Jimmye Laycock has a long record of upsetting I-A teams. The Tribe has 15 returning starters.

The Pirates' coaching staff knows that William & Mary will be approaching this game as an opportunity to gain national recognition for knocking off a name opponent.

The Tribe, which hasn’t played ECU since 1983, will mirror much of what the Pirates do offensively and defensively, giving extra value to some live scrimmaging between ECU’s first units on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Many older Pirate fans will have a distinct memory of an ECU-W&M game in Norfolk — the last game of the season in 1977.

The Tribe quarterback was going around the right side for an apparent touchdown when Jim Johnson, a former EC player and coach, came off the sideline to level him short of the goal line. Johnson, enshrined in the ECU hall of fame in 1978, later apologized profusely.

As I recall, a touchdown was awarded on the play and the record book tells me the Tribe won the game 21-17. ECU finished the season 8-3, the losses by a total of 11 points.

William & Mary returned to the schedule this year as a replacement because a contracted opponent, my recollection tells me it was West Virginia, backed out.

Hamrick got this football game and a home basketball game with the Tribe for the combined sum of $150,000 — a great bargain for the Pirates.

The schedule was initially set up to allow a bye week before playing North Carolina but now the Pirates will visit Chapel Hill on the heels of a trip to Syracuse.

If you want to feel better about the way the schedule has worked out, consider that ECU had a bye week before losing 17-10 at Memphis last season and the Pirates had two extra days of down time following a Thursday night win at Louisville — before losing to UAB.

The 14-9 win at Southern Miss came last year as the Pirates were on the road for a second consecutive week as the case will be with the visit to UNC.

Schedule Shuffle Makes FSU Bunting's Home Opener

As for College Football in the Carolinas in general, it’s really a thin week to write about considering the postponements.

Every program is dealing with adjustments:

  • South Carolina practiced Saturday and Sunday.

  • UNC will play its first home game in the John Bunting coaching era against Florida State rather than SMU.

  • Duke will donate a portion of the proceeds from the Northwestern game to relief efforts in New York and Washington.

  • State has played just one game and should go to 2-0 at SMU on Saturday night.

  • Wake Forest and Maryland both look to have made good coaching hires and their game in Winston-Salem on Saturday has taken on unanticipated significance.

  • Clemson has moved a linebacker, Braxton K. Williams, to free safety in response to its injury situation as the Tigers prepare for a visit from Virginia.

That’s about it. Here’s hoping college football resumes as planned and we have the peace of mind to enjoy it. I’ll try to save my prayers for really important things.

As for the State Line Power Rankings©, no games, no changes:

State Line Power Rankings© [091701]

1. South Carolina ... No chickens on flight to play Mississippi State.
2. Clemson ... Tigers have just two losses at home to Virginia since 1955.
3. Wake Forest ... Two quarterback system has produced two wins.
4. East Carolina ... Set to resume rivalry with William & Mary.
5. N.C. State ... Wolfpack looked spiffy in its only outing.
6. North Carolina ... When you’re 0-3, Florida State isn’t who you want to see.
7. Duke ... The Devils share elite private school status with Northwestern but few similarities in football.

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02/23/2007 01:03:05 AM

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