College Sports in the Carolinas
Don't miss Al Myatt's
profile of new ECU Chancellor Steven Ballard in the 2004
from the East
Monday, September 6, 2004
By Al Myatt
Program's swagger down but not
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PAT DYE: Short on Tenure, Long on Impact
INSIDE PIRATE FOOTBALL
Tracking the Classes
NCHSAA & ECU: Smooth Sailing Again
HIGH HOPES FOR HOOPS
New Leader Takes Charge
SCOTT COWEN: Busting Down the Door
KEITH LECLAIR on ECU's Field of Dreams
BETH GRANT: Actress Still a Pirate
The pregame package in the Charleston (WV) paper reminded readers that East
Carolina's last win in its series with West Virginia had come five years to
the day prior to the 2004 season opener.
Yes, five years ago, on Sept. 4, 1999, the Pirates defeated the Mountaineers
30-23 at then-Ericsson Stadium in Charlotte with the help of a ground game
that totaled 327 yards.
Ah, the good old days.
We all know that the Pirate ship has since run aground. Coach John Thompson
and mates are working mightily to get the vessel under full sail again.
Daydreaming occasionally can be an effective coping strategy. Those
concerned about East Carolina's 56-23 loss to national title contender West
Virginia on Saturday night and the fact that the Mountaineers totaled 621
yards of total offense might want to join me for some postgame therapy in
the form of a flashback.
Five years ago, ECU was the premier college program in the state. Carl
Torbush was under scrutiny at North Carolina and Mike O'Cain was coaching
his last season at N.C. State. Wake Forest did manage a bowl victory but
that was the only winning season (7-5) among eight campaigns for the Demon
Deacons under Jim Caldwell. Struggling Duke was 3-8 in Carl Franks' first
I remember walking down a series of stairs at the stadium in Charlotte after
ECU had topped the Mountaineers in 1999 on a 1-yard run by sophomore
quarterback David Garrard with 56 seconds left. Garrard had atoned for an
interception that led to a touchdown pass by Marc Bulger that had tied the
score midway the fourth quarter.
John Williamson intercepted Bulger in the final minute to seal the outcome.
The Pirate fans were chanting, "ECU, ECU," as they filed down those stairs
and I recall thinking, "This could be a special season."
Former ECU athletic director Mike Hamrick had sold the home game with WVU to
ESPN television interests and it was moved to Charlotte, where it was played
Hurricane/tropical storm Dennis brought hard rain that day back in
Greenville, a precursor to the arrival of Hurricane Floyd a couple of weeks
Floyd caused the Miami game to be moved to Raleigh where ECU stunned the
Hurricanes 27-23. There was also a 23-6 win over N.C. State in Greenville
that led to O'Cain's firing and, as a result, ushered in the Chuck Amato era
for the Wolfpack.
The Pirates finished 9-3 in 1999 with a 28-14 loss to Texas Christian in the
inaugural Mobile Bowl.
The Pirates went 8-4 the following season, rolling past Texas Tech in the
Galleryfurniture.com Bowl in Houston. And that's where the daydream of the
good old days pretty much comes to an end.
The Pirates slumped to 6-6 in Garrard's senior season in 2001 and Logan was
dismissed after a 4-8 season in 2002. Thompson and company were a little bit
like all the king's horsemen and all the king's men trying to put Humpty
Dumpty together again in 2003.
The good thing about Saturday night's loss to the Mountaineers is that it
was not as bad in many respects as last year's 48-7 home loss to WVU during
a 1-11 season in 2003. ECU showed some perceptible progress, particularly on
offense, against a very tough measuring stick, and that's an indication that
the pendulum of success may once again be swinging in the right direction
for the Pirates.
The recent struggles should have created an appreciation of ECU's past glory
and a longing to regain it. ECU followed up the 1999 season with a
recruiting class that included Art Brown, Charlie Dempsey, Hagen Mason,
Marvin Townes and Donald Whitehead all of whom are prominent in the
Pirates' anticipated improvement this season.
ECU's football tradition at the end of the millennium was likely a factor in
their decisions to become Pirates. Those current seniors are among the last
active vestiges to those days of swagger.
It appeared to be a determined group of Pirates that left Mountaineer Field
on Saturday night. Perhaps they could sense their own progress against a
powerhouse program that has risen into the Top 10 and should continue to
Confidence can grow in such conditions. The Pirates shouldn't be outmanned
to the same degree for the rest of the season.
There are encouraging signs that ECU is moving again in the right direction
and that eventually means that the days on which daydreams are based will
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02/23/2007 12:46:27 AM