It’s getting late so I’m going to make it short and sweet
and kind of bitter, as Bob Prince, the former radio voice of the Pittsburgh
Pirates, used to say.
The subject is another band of Pirates — those at East
Carolina — and a term I used to hear fans talk about, “Pirate football.”
It’s been a while since I’ve seen East Carolina play in the
manner I associate with that particular brand.
The first ECU home football game I ever went to was back in
1976. I had just become sports editor of the Washington (NC) Daily News and
the Pirates were hosting Appalachian State.
It was cold and the old press box at Ficklen Stadium shook
with the breeze. The marching band was loud, there seemed to be an
overabundance of pretty girls and ECU had a self-assured coach named Pat Dye
who ran the wishbone and drawled about “his skinny-legged boys from Eastern
ECU had a hard-hitting defense that produced turnovers, an
offense that thrived on big plays and there was a mindset pervading the
premises that ECU wouldn’t be beat. That was my first exposure to football
at ECU and that’s what I think of when I think of “Pirate football.”
ECU ran the Mountaineers back to Boone with a dominating
performance and a 35-7 win. That finished ECU’s season at 9-2, and the 4-1
Southern Conference record was good enough for the league title.
Incidentally, ECU pulled out of the Southern Conference the
following season to become an independent and upgrade the program to the
major college level. ECU hasn’t won a conference title since then and this
is its sixth season in Conference USA.
As ECU gets ready to host No. 22 Texas Christian, I’d like
to see some “Pirate football” again. I imagine there are a lot of other
folks who would like to see ECU wake up some echoes from its glorious past
With a shot remaining at ECU’s first C-USA championship,
maybe the current players can summon an effort that Dye and other prominent
forefathers of the program would be proud to consider part of their legacy —
celestial Coach Clarence Stasavich included.
Guys like the Wild Dogs of the 1970s reached down for some
vicarious identification with their past. So did that group of winners that
left the whole state believing after the 1991 season.
A loss Saturday and ECU is assured of its worst season since the
1993 team was 2-9. Since then, Coach Steve Logan has had just one losing
season, 5-6 in 1997. The program has made five bowl trips in the meantime, winning the
Liberty Bowl in 1995 and the Galleryfurniture.com Bowl in 2000. Logan’s
teams have beaten Miami twice and N.C. State two out of three times.
Logan has been patient on the outside but you know it must
be frustrating for him this season to see a program he has worked to build
fail to measure up to the standard his previous teams have established.
The way the defense lay down on the last drive at UAB was
simply a disgrace to ECU’s tradition.
If that’s too harsh, I’m sorry. If this column is
cheerleading, I’m sorry. I know those guys were trying, but that reminds me
of a story about an old coach.
The coach turns to the bench and says, “Jones, get in there
for Smith. He can’t block his man and the quarterback is getting killed.”
Jones gets to his feet, snaps his chin strap and says, “I’ll
The coach grabs Jones’ jersey and pulls him back. “Sit down,
Jones,” the old coach says. “Smith is trying.”
Sometimes it takes more than effort. It takes a will to win
is the point. At ECU, it takes “Pirate football.”
Maybe the emphasis on the next play and the next game has
taken some of the focus off of where it needs to be occasionally — and
that’s on some of ECU’s football past and the creation of a collective will
to uphold that tradition.
Too much of what I’m hearing is that this unit had a
breakdown or this player missed an assignment or there were just too many
turnovers. The record doesn’t break it down like that. It just tells me ECU
There's more to it than mechanics. ECU needs an infusion of
emotion, a connection with its past, a dose of steel will to live up to what
has become the "Pirate football" standard.
Something needs to change and Saturday at 2 p.m. would be a
good time to start.
That’s for those of us who remember what “Pirate football”
has been ... and, thankfully, for what it still can be.