Insights and Observations
Thursday, October 9, 2003
By Henry Hinton
Broadcaster & Owner
of Greenville Cable 7
Feud with checkered past
finally lands in Ficklen
It’s true that the game would never have been scheduled
without involvement by the General Assembly. It’s also true that no one
anticipated North Carolina's first visit to Greenville on Saturday to pit an
0-5 Tar Heel team against an 0-5 East Carolina squad.
Regardless of the disappointing records, UNC head coach
John Bunting likes the idea of the two teams playing.
“I think it’s great for football and great for the two
schools,” Bunting told a radio and television audience Wednesday night on
Cable 7’s Midweek Tailgate Show.
Bunting better be careful. Even chancellors get fired
for thinking that way these days. (Just kidding, Molly).
Bunting was not around for the fireworks that typified
the Pirates-Tar Heels series in the 'seventies and 'eighties, but having
played in Chapel Hill for Bill Dooley he certainly understands what its all
Earlier this summer, I recapped in
Bonesville Magazine some of the odd and
bizarre things that have occurred leading up to this game. It seems totally
appropriate to revisit that history as the “Biggest Game in the History of
Greenville” approaches. (Well, it was going to be before both teams started
These two schools did not need any additional reasons
to dislike each other. Being 100 miles apart should be enough. But it was
the policy to not play other in-state non-conference schools by UNC that
really created newfound animosity some twenty-five or so years ago. Said
policy was curiously adopted in the late seventies when the Pirate program
was gaining momentum and beginning to defeat schools like N. C. State, Duke
and Virginia with some regularity.
Then UNC-Chapel Hill Director of Athletics Bill Cobey
(currently a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor in 2004)
announced that his program would no longer be scheduling ECU. Most Pirate
fans translated that as Cobey’s unwillingness to subject his program to
potential defeat and the type of alumni humiliation and recruiting
competition that a loss to ECU had created for others, including his
neighbors in Raleigh.
About that time, Cobey was invited to speak to a rabid
group of fans (mostly Pirates) at a meeting of the now-defunct Greenville
Sports Club in the old Ramada Inn. Those in attendance that day felt Cobey
had come to Greenville to try and explain himself. During the question and
answer part of his appearance things understandably turned a little hostile
Cobey was actually rescued that day by an unusual ally
when East Carolina head coach Pat Dye, who was in attendance just to listen,
stood up and made an attempt to calm the crowd by saying in his deep south
style: “Listen boys, ya’ll lay off Mr. Cobey. He’s just doing what he thinks
is best for his program. This don’t mean we won’t ever play ‘em again. It
just means we ain’t gonna’ play right now”
Prophetic words from Coach Dye. Many could not help but
remember those strange comments from the ECU coach in years to come when
rumors persisted that the he had an interest in leaving Greenville to become
the coach in Chapel Hill or maybe even Raleigh. Interestingly, the only
thing that prevented that from happening was a policy set forth by UNC
System President Bill Friday that disallowed one school in the public
university system from hiring a coach from a sister institution.
It is widely known that Dye had tried to cut a back
door deal to go to N.C. State when leaving ECU. That part of Pirate history
served to enhance the already white hot animosity between the in-state
programs and marred the admiration many had for Dye and the program he had
built in Greenville. Many say it is the reason Dye has never been inducted
into the ECU Hall of Fame.
There is no denying that before leaving Greenville some
of Dye’s greatest coaching efforts went into the games played against the
Tar Heels. Before Cobey’s new policy went into effect the Pirates lined up
against UNC-Chapel Hill eight times, all in Kenan Stadium. The thought of
them coming to Greenville seemed nothing short of ridiculous back in those
The first game took place the Saturday after
Thanksgiving in 1972 when North Carolina handed Sonny Randle’s Pirates a
42-19 spanking, dashing any hopes that the upstarts from the east would make
a statement. But it was the next year when the real hostilities began.
In the second meeting, which took place on October 27,
1973, the game ended in a controversy that started what has been a 30-year
feud. The Pirates were featuring the best player in their history in the
tall lumbering running back Carlester Crumpler. ECU had won Crumpler’s
services two years earlier in a recruiting battle which marked the first
time an instate marquee’ high school player had chosen purple over blue or
“Early in the game, we went in trying not to get
embarrassed like we had the year beforek” Crumpler recalls. “But then things
started to change. We realized we were good enough to compete with them and
maybe even win the game.”
Late in the game, ECU had amazingly mustered a 27-21
lead over the heralded Tar Heels. Could this be happening? Tiny East
Carolina taking it to the state’s flagship university on its own turf? Then,
just as the ECU defense seemed to have stopped the Heels on a critical third
down play late in the fourth quarter, it happened.
A flag. A late flag. A very late flag.
Pirate defensive back Reggie Pinkney was accused of
pass interference as UNC tight end Charles Waddell reached for a pass that
seemed uncatchable. Nonetheless, the Tar Heel drive stayed alive all the way
to the end zone and North Carolina escaped the ultimate embarrassment by
winning the game 28-27.
“I will never forget it”, said Crumpler. “It’s just one
of those things you absolutely never forget. We had them stopped and then we
saw that flag come in. I’ve had contact with Waddell several times in years
since then and I always kid him about it. But there were some hard feelings
at the time because beating them would have been a big step for us and for
the East Carolina program.”
The two teams would meet again in 1975, just one day
after word filtered around the East Carolina family that Clarence Stasavich,
who many considered the father of ECU football, had passed away. An inspired
group of Pirates took to the field in Kenan Stadium on October 25th and won
one for “Stas,” defeating North Carolina 38-17, the only ECU victory in the
series to date.
There have been other controversies including a late
field goal in the game played in 1976 giving the Heels a 12-10 win. The
Pirate quarterback for that game, Mike Weaver, has complained for years that
the ball UNC kicker Jeff Arnold used to kick the 49-yarder was so huge and
soft it looked like a basketball. Weaver swears UNC called time out before
the kick so the special ball could be brought in for Arnold.
“That ball didn’t even have stripes on it”, said
Weaver. “I think the kicker must have been using that same ball since he
played in the punt, pass and kick competition in the eighth grade. I’ve
never seen a ball like that before or since.”
That loss doomed Dye’s team that year. The Pirates had
entered the game with a 6-0 record and just days before had received East
Carolina’s first ever Top 20 national ranking at Number 19. After that they
fell from the rankings and didn’t receive a bowl bid at season’s end.
In 1979, the Pirates and Tar Heels played to a 24-24
tie. The East Carolina program was growing and becoming a force in the
region but the controversy was just beginning.
After losing to UNC-CH in 1980 by a score of 31-3,
Pirate coach Ed Emory was looking for an edge on Dick Crum’s Tar Heel team
for the upcoming contest in 1981. Did he look too hard and go too far? Crum
accused Emory of sending spies the week of the game into the UNC Law School
Library, which featured windows in a perfect spot to overlook Crum’s
The story from Chapel Hill goes like this: When the two
ECU spies were approached and asked for identification they walked out of
the library and got in their car. A check of the license plate of the car
showed that it was owned by a Morehead City auto dealership which provided
the ECU football coaches a courtesy car.
No wrongdoing was ever admitted by Emory, but the
incident furthered the tension between the two Carolinas, East and North.
Crum responded by routing the overmatched Pirates 56-0 in a game where he
never called off the dogs but clearly could have.
After that, many folks in Chapel Hill got what they
wanted and what Cobey had started years before — a hands off policy toward
scheduling the Pirates. As ECU fans know too well, N.C. State followed suit
in the early eighties, citing a post-game brawl in Raleigh and saying the
rivalry had turned too ugly.
As the Pirate program gained national attention through
the nineties, pressure began to build on UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State to
play ECU again. It was through a somewhat bizarre set of circumstances that
Pirate-prone legislators in the North Carolina General Assembly were able to
make it happen.
While no one has ever confirmed the details of the
circumstances surrounding the revitalization of the series, it is a known
fact that in the mid-nineties a group of legislators including Greenville’s
Senator Ed Warren lobbied for the help of Senator Marc Basnight, the most
powerful man in Raleigh. Basnight convened a meeting of athletic directors
including John Swofford from Chapel Hill and Todd Turner from N.C. State.
As the story goes, the timing was good because the Dean
E. Smith Center was beginning to have operating statement problems. When the
Dean Dome was built, projections showed it would be the number one venue in
the area for concerts. However, a few years later a much larger and much
trendier Walnut Creek Amphitheatre opened in Raleigh and took that position
away making the dome operating profit diminish or even disappear.
The university was looking to the state for help. On
the other side of the Triangle, N. C. State was locked in a somewhat
controversial battle to get its new arena built.
Without the help of Basnight and the General Assembly,
both arena projects would suffer significant problems. As the President Pro
Tem of the Senate, Basnight has uncanny control of the budget. Even though
he never went to college, living in Manteo his whole life gave him an
allegiance to the east. A couple of phone calls here, a meeting or two there
and all of a sudden both N.C. State and North Carolina were more than
willing to resume the East Carolina series.
So, in 2001, perhaps the most painful of all the UNC-East
Carolina meetings took place as the series resumed in Chapel Hill. Many say
it was the beginning of the end for Pirate coach Steve Logan. One bizarre
play after another marred an otherwise admirable ECU performance. A come
from behind strip of Art Brown just a nanosecond before he was crossing the
goal line cost ECU one score.
An 80-yard touchdown pass from David Garrard to Richard
Alston was called back for holding by a Conference USA official. ECU coaches
to this day say there is no hold on the game tape. Then a pass that was a
certain interception went right through ECU secondary player Brandon
Ranier’s hands. The carom directed the ball directly into the hands of a Tar
Heel receiver laying on the ground in the end zone. Those three plays made a
21 point difference in the game.
The Heels walked away with a 24-21 victory and the
emotional drain on the players and coaches would not leave the Pirate
program for a season and a half. It is almost as if the damage done to
Logan’s program that day was insurmountable. An ECU victory that day could
very well have led the Pirates and Logan down a different road. But, the
negative momentum and unhappiness of fans in the state prevailed.
So now the moment is here. ECU finally gets the Heels
on the Dowdy-Ficklen turf this Saturday. Will the venue and a rabid home
crowd create a different outcome? The series now stands at 1-7-1. If history
tells us anything the game will be filled with emotion and possibly involve
a controversy or two.
It has to be that way. It’s the Pirates and the Tar
Heels. Many locals, including yours truly will be thinking of Senator Warren
and former ECU Chancellor Leo Jenkins on Saturday and wishing they were
still around to be a part of it all.
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02/23/2007 10:12:15 AM