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College Sports in the Carolinas

View from the East
Friday, November 22, 2002

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Proud heritage demands better



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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 North Carolina.”

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 as well.

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 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 try coach.”

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 is 3-6.

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.

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02/23/2007 12:59:09 AM

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