College Sports in the Carolinas
from the 'ville
October 27, 2005
By Al Myatt
Dark day in '93 felled a
star, derailed a season
Renewal of ECU-UCF series
spurs flashback of grisly injury to ECU legend
It was a play that will live in infamy.
It happened 12 years ago. While it didn't cost
East Carolina a game, it did cost the Pirates a season.
To many among the Pirate Nation, it is THE
indelible memory from the four-game Central Florida-ECU series that will be
renewed on Saturday in Greenville in a new Conference USA context. Yes, it
stands out more than the performances of a former Knights quarterback by the
name of Daunte Culpepper.
The perpetrator of the horrific incident from
the Pirates perspective was UCF defensive end Emil Ekiyor. The victim was
ECU freshman quarterback
Marcus Crandell. It happened in a 41-17 Pirates win
in Greenville on Sept. 18, 1993.
Crandell rolled out to pass on a naked bootleg
and after releasing the ball was horse-collared by Ekiyor.
"I threw the ball and took a couple of steps,"
said Crandell, who now plays for the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the
Canadian Football League. "Somebody grabbed me from behind and threw me
down. It was definitely late."
Crandell sustained a dislocated ankle and
fractured fibula. The severity of the injury was apparent to the crowd
because his foot and lower leg were grotesquely contorted, dangling at an
angle from the rest of the limb.
The damage to ECU's 1993 hopes was also ugly.
The team limped to a 1-8 record for the remainder of the season without
Crandell. The Pirates went 2-9 overall.
"I had worked hard in the offseason and won
the starting job in spring camp," Crandell recalled. "(The injury) was
devastating. ... I only saw it one time (on tape) and I just caught the end
of it because I didn't want to watch it."
Then-ECU coach Steve Logan turned to Chris
Hester to replace Crandell but Hester was injured the following week in a
35-0 loss at Washington. Perez Mattison, who finished his career as a
defensive back, eventually was forced into action under center.
"We had Danny Gonzalez, but I didn't want to
use his redshirt year and affect his progression," said Logan, a proven guru
in the development of quarterbacks. "So we bit the bullet. But I knew after
we lost Marcus, we might as well write off the season."
The Pirates were a study in contrasts before
and after the picture with and without the budding star from nearby
Robersonville Roanoke High.
With Crandell healthy for most of the next
three years, the Pirates recovered to win 24 of 35 games, including a 19-13
victory over Stanford in the 1995 Liberty Bowl. Crandell threw for 7,198
yards and 58 touchdowns in his Pirate career.
A second opinion
Many Pirate fans among a crowd of 30,867, who
pelted the playing surface with enough debris to make it look like a
landfill, saw Ekiyor's actions as criminal assault, as brazen and
cold-blooded as Jack Ruby in a Dallas garage.
Not Alan Gooch.
Gooch played at UCF and was running backs coach
for the Golden Knights in 1993. He later became Executive Director of the
Golden Knights Club and is now involved with an Orlando real estate firm.
The severity of Crandell's broken leg is
etched in his memory.
"It made me wince," Gooch said.
But he doesn't think Ekiyor meant to do it.
"I remember how the fans reacted, but we ran
the tape back and it was a freak thing," Gooch said. "Emil was pursuing with
his arms out. He was actually blocked into Marcus and they landed awkwardly.
We told him it wasn't his fault and we showed him that on the tape."
That contention wouldn't get Gooch so much as
the skin of a chicken wing from ECU tailgaters on Saturday, but he won't be
making the trip anyway. He may be badly-misguided in terms of the Pirate
take on that bit of history, but he is connected. His prominent
acquaintances include retired Greenville businessman Parker Overton and
daughter, Kristi, a world champion water skier.
"Kristi married a defensive back who played at
Central Florida," Gooch said.
Gooch also said he had spoken to Orlando
resident Ron Dowdy — as in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium — on Tuesday. Dowdy will be
on hand for ECU's clash with UCF, according to Gooch.
And Gooch also has heard from the notorious
"He called me about a year ago from
Indianapolis," Gooch said. "He was asking me to be a reference for a high
school job he was after."
More on Ekiyor
Ekiyor, who was born on Christmas Day in 1973,
was the son of an African ambassador to the United States, according to
Gooch. He set a school basketball season record at Port Orange (FL) High
with 120 blocked shots his senior year. He was a football team captain at
UCF in 1995.
Ekiyor appeared in the Adam Sandler
blockbuster comedy movie "Waterboy," which was released in 1998.
After spending seven seasons in the NFL with
Tampa Bay, Indianapolis, Atlanta and Oakland before retiring in 2003, Ekiyor
became director of the Touch a Life Foundation, a non-profit organization
that assists at-risk youth ages 10-17 in Marion County, IN.
If Ekiyor had bad intentions toward Crandell
in that 1993 game at ECU, he apparently has changed for the better.
Pirate protagonist still a pro
Crandell has been through some changes
himself, the most recent being the birth of his son, Carmelo George, who
will be eight months old next week.
"Fatherhood is great," Crandell said. "I'm
loving it. They change your life. That's for sure."
Martin County has declared Dec. 21 as "Marcus
"It's different up here from East Carolina and
back home in Robersonville," Crandell said. "At ECU, my family and friends
could come see me play. But my wife (Mona) has family here so it feels like
home here in a way. And everybody knows everybody up here so it feels like
home in that way, too."
The highlight of Crandell's pro career was
winning the Grey Cup, the Super Bowl of the CFL, with the Calgary Stampeders
in 2001. He's in his eighth year in the CFL. The Roughriders have a key game
Nov. 5 in terms of their playoff hopes. That's following an open date this
Logan recruited Crandell to play quarterback
while many programs indicated a position change was imminent on the next
He wanted to play quarterback and that closed
the deal for ECU. Even with that ugly detour in 1993, Crandell is still
reaping the benefits of that decision.
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