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Nostalgia has been king in the Pirate Nation in recent
weeks, and mostly I have chosen to be a listener ó a collector of the
memories of those who have cheered for East Carolina over multiple
50th anniversary of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium has unleashed a
river of recollections. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing several
fans who have been watching football games for that entire half century for
an upcoming ďPirateís ChestĒ article.
I am mildly obsessed with collecting and chronicling
sports history. If I could make an entire career out of writing about topics
that unfolded before 1960, I would do it. As it is, I am writing my second
historical book and I probe the memories of more seasoned sports fans any
chance I get.
But I have hit upon a realization, as this Pirate
football season has allowed the past to march on conspicuously alongside the
present. Iím not as much of a newbie as I thought. I might have only arrived
in Greenville 14 years ago, but in that short time Iíve managed to assemble
a little nostalgia collection of my own.
Itís a little bit like watching your kids grow. People
from out of town exclaim over how big the children are getting, but itís
easy to miss the impact when day-to-day routine brings only miniscule,
incremental change. But as I step back a little and gaze on the mental and
physical growth of the Pirate Nation, I realize that Iím looking at
something very different than the ECU I became acquainted with just before
Hurricane Floyd roared through in 1999.
On November 20 of that year, I stood on the field as a
reporter after the No. 21 Pirates dominated the Wolfpack 23-6 before a
crazed throng of 50,092, and I thought I was seeing the pinnacle of what ECU
athletics had to offer. Since that time two crowds have surpassed that dayís
number ó in 2010 against N.C. State again and in 2011 against North
Carolina, and as the stadium keeps expanding so will the crowds.
The history of ECU gridiron triumphs ó John
Christenburyís undefeated 1941 season, the 1978 Independence Bowl and 1991
Peach Bowl victories, the 1999 Miami game in Raleigh ó is a sturdy
foundation on which Ruffin McNeill and his staff fully intend to keep
building. Even if the elevation to a major conference has still eluded ECU,
all indications are that the program is still making slow upward progress
toward national prominence.
is far from the only area where I am tempted to exclaim, ďMy, how youíve
grown!Ē I specialize in covering the Olympic sports, and across the board I
have seen programs advance in recruiting and competitiveness. The new
attitude is reflected in the still-shiny coachesí building ó a drastic
improvement from their Scales Fieldhouse digs ó that reflects ECUís belief
that teams like golf, softball and tennis are worthy of investment.
The new basketball practice facility benefits volleyball,
too. Improvements to the Minges Natatorium were long overdue, even though
swimming and diving will eventually need to completely upgrade its historic
facility. But at least Rick Kobe, the coach with the longest and winningest
history at ECU, can now show recruits a pool with a state-of-the-art
filtration system. The softball, soccer and track facilities, all unveiled
in recent years, now outshine those of Pirate opponents in both the old and
Inertia, of course, isnít an option for ECU. Every sport
on campus will keep needing dreamers of big dreams and generous fans willing
to give the money that keeps progress from derailing.
I am a bit biased toward those lower visibility sports
because I count the coaches as friends, but I hope that their needs will
continue to get a hearing, especially when they prove that they can turn new
stadiums, scholarships or staff positions into new milestones of success.
I know my measly decade-and-a-half pales in comparison to
those who remember football in Guy Smith Stadium and Bill Carson sneaking
his little track team to meets across the country, but Iím grateful for the
changes I have seen on the ECU landscape. I have never lived in a place as
long as Iíve lived here, and so youíll excuse me my lapse into reminiscence.
Give me 14 or 15 more years, and then my credentials as a Pirate historian
will be solid.