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Remember when the East
Carolina-N.C. State football rivalry was fun?
I surely do.
But you have to rewind to
the first day of 1992 to find a game in which the stakes involved were
remotely high for both.
That was the memorable
Peach Bowl, a New Year’s meeting of two Top 25 clubs on neutral turf.
Since then, the two programs have traveled down an endless course of ebb
and flow, with almost each match-up highlighting two clubs on opposite
ends of the competitive spectrum.
Only the 1997 game in
Raleigh featured two teams on seemingly level ground. And that was a
game in which both entered 5-5, and neither was getting a serious sniff
from a postseason bowl.
Thankfully there have been
notable individual performances.
In ’96 it was Scott
Harley, who rumbled over Wolfpack defenders and through the Ericsson
Stadium swamp en route to an ECU-record 351 yards rushing and a 50-29
blowout win. In ’97 it was Mr. Wolfpack himself — Torry Holt — shredding
ECU’s porous defense to rally State past the Pirates in the second half.
It was David Garrard’s
turn in ’99, topping the century mark both in passing and rushing while
leading the Pirates to an easy 23-6 'W' in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. ECU
certainly could have used that in 2004, when a collective effort by the
Raleigh Sack Exchange highlighted a thorough 52-14 pounding in
There also has been no
shortage of external drama surrounding this series.
Thrice in the past eight
years this game has marked the finale for a head coach. State losses
were the final straw for Mike O’Cain (’99) and Chuck Amato (’06), while
ECU’s John Thompson was the quintessential lame duck in 2004.
In all three cases, rumors
of potential successors sparked more banter than the games themselves.
It’s all part of the sad evolution of a rivalry that has downgraded
itself from one marked by passion to one nearly underscored by relative
In West Raleigh, many fans
would just as soon see the game permanently removed from future
schedules. The North Carolina legislature’s insistence years ago that
the series be renewed still grates that portion of Wolfpack Nation to
Though the same sentiment
doesn’t apply in Greenville, you can hardly deny that overall interest
in playing the Pack has somewhat declined. With the non-conference
schedules AD Terry Holland has assembled, several other opponents have
gotten more focus from fans Down East.
The case can even be made
that the buildup leading into Conference USA showdowns with Southern
Miss and Central Florida ignited a bigger inferno within the ECU
constituency than the one this week. And if the Pirates beat the
Wolfpack Saturday, it’ll be difficult for the emotion to top what was
experienced in El Paso on Saturday.
Truthfully, it’s tempting
to trace the deflating enthusiasm in this series to the late Jim
Valvano’s decision to issue it the Death Penalty in 1987. After all, the
frequency with which schools appear on each others’ schedules plays a
huge factor in defining rivalries.
But that’s just one detail
— a pretty big one, mind you — and Jimmy V can’t be blamed for the
ultimate demise of this once-intense rivalry.
College rivalries are most
fun when both schools are on the competitive upswing and the stakes are
important. That typically sets the media ablaze and fans in
full-throttle smack mode for at least two weeks leading into the game.
In that scenario, the
general sentiment among both is that the outcome can provide the
ultimate momentum shift — good or bad — with residual effects that last
throughout the season.
It’s been a long time
since that sentiment applied to both East Carolina and N.C. State at the
True, the atmosphere
inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium will be rocking Saturday, perhaps as much
as it was when the Pirates hosted a rare visit from North Carolina.
That’s generally the case anytime an in-state or ACC school visits
But there’s no denying
that the emphasis within the ECU fan base on playing N.C. State isn’t
quite what it once was. For many Wolfpack partisans, a permanent
cancellation would suit them just fine.
Sadly, this rivalry has
lost most of its fun.