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Don't miss Al Myatt's profile of new ECU Chancellor Steven Ballard in the 2004 Bonesville Magazine.

View from the East
Monday, September 6, 2004

By Al Myatt

Program's swagger down but not out


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Bonesville Magazine

• PAT DYE: Short on Tenure, Long on Impact

• Recruit Profiles
• Rookie Books
• Tracking the Classes
• Florida Pipeline
• NCHSAA & ECU: Smooth Sailing Again


• STEVE BALLARD: New Leader Takes Charge

• SCOTT COWEN: Busting Down the Door

• KEITH LECLAIR on ECU's Field of Dreams

• BETH GRANT: Actress Still a Pirate

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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 season.

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."

It was.

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 before 47,860.

Hurricane/tropical storm Dennis brought hard rain that day back in Greenville, a precursor to the arrival of Hurricane Floyd a couple of weeks later.

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 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 climb.

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 return.


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02/23/2007 12:46:27 AM

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