The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, December 18, 2013

By Bethany Bradsher

'Six Degrees of Pirate Nation'

By Bethany Bradsher
All Rights Reserved.

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Since I am full to overflowing with holiday cheer, I thought about buying each of you a little piece of Pirate swag for Christmas. It’s the least I can do for such nice readers. But I don’t know most of your sizes, and I suspect many of you already have a purple-and-gold quilted cover for your 3-wood and a hand-knitted PeeDee tea cozy.

So, along with my wishes of peace and goodwill, you’ll have to settle for this column.

Remember “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?” I have taken that game and twisted it to my own peculiar purposes, to bring you, wrapped in a giant virtual red bow, “The Six Degrees of the Pirate Nation.”

I started with a couple of figures with great value to the Pirates and got them directly to the doorstep of the East Carolina community, and then I veered into the territory of Christmas pop culture icons, some of which might have seemed impossibly far from the land of Compher, Lebo and McNeill. In six steps or less, I arrived at my ECU destination, and if I made fantastic leaps of logic a couple of times in the process, please know that I did it all for you.

Without further adieu, the Six Degrees of Pirate Nation, delivered right to your screen for Christmas 2013:

• We’ll start with Blackbeard, the most famous non-athletic buccaneer ever to spend time in Eastern N.C. Blackbeard was ultimately captured through the efforts of early Virginia governor Alexander Spotswood. Spotswood’s successor in the Richmond governor’s mansion 250 years later was George Allen. Allen’s father was George Herbert Allen, the head coach for the Washington Redskins from 1971-’77. The current Redskins roster includes cornerback David Amerson, a product of N.C. State and Dudley High School in Greensboro. And who was one of Amerson’s classmates at Dudley? None other than East Carolina senior sprinter Natalie Nelson.

• Our next jumping-off point isn’t a person but a restaurant chain, the most mysterious and crucial word in our Pirate football vocabulary this week. Beef O’Brady’s was founded by Jim Mellody, a Pennsylvania native and a devout Catholic who named his company after his mother’s maiden name, Brady. The Brady branch of Mellody’s family could have distant ties to another Brady from a Catholic family, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. While he was at Michigan, Tom Brady battled for the starting quarterback position with Drew Henson, who was also a baseball player and spent four years in the New York Yankees farm system. Four years after Henson left, an ECU slugger named Kyle Roller was drafted by the Yankees, and Roller was coached at ECU by current Pirate baseball skipper Billy Godwin.

• OK, now for some iconic holiday figures. Let’s start with Scrooge, played most famously by George C. Scott. Scott studied journalism and drama at the University of Missouri, whose basketball team currently boasts top scorer Earnest Ross. Ross, a product of Panther Creek High School in Cary, started his collegiate career at Auburn, where he spent one year. And the coach who recruited Ross to Auburn and led him during his freshman season? ECU head basketball coach Jeff Lebo.

• Next we turn to our other favorite Christmas villain, The Grinch, created by Dr. Seuss, AKA Theodor Geisel. Geisel graduated from Dartmouth College, where one of his fellow students in the early 1920s was a Big Green baseball player named Waldo Ward “Rusty” Yarnall. Yarnall played in one game in the bigs – as a pitcher with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1926. Seventy-two years later, a UNC-Chapel Hill player named Kurt Blackmon was drafted by the Phillies to join Yarnall in that team’s record books. One of Blackmon’s Tar Heel teammates was outfielder Brian Holberton, who attended Charlotte’s Myers Park High with Pirate volleyball defensive specialist Andrea Queck.

(Here you might justifiably stop and question my methodology. Why not just jump from Yarnall to one of the ECU players drafted by the Phillies, like Tommy Eason, Stephen Batts or Zach Wright? To which I have two defenses: I like my holiday games to be complicated, and I enjoy volleyball.)

• Finally, a moment in the sun for the big man himself, Santa Claus. The most famous film portrayal of Kris Kringle came from Edmund Gwenn, who portrayed the jolly old elf in the original “Miracle on 34th Street.” Gwenn later starred alongside Jerry Mathers in “The Trouble with Harry.” Mathers was, of course, the Beaver, and his brother Wally’s scheming best friend in the series, Eddie Haskell, was portrayed by Ken Osmond. Osmond had a role in one 1983 episode of “Happy Days” with Ron Howard. Howard was part of “American Graffiti”’s star-studded cast with Harrison Ford. Ford helped save the world in Patriot Games with Samuel L. Jackson, who starred with ECU’s most famous former student, Sandra Bullock, in “A Time to Kill.” I know we’re pushing the six degrees here, but if you need to end on a sports note, Bullock matriculated at ECU her freshman year with former Pirate running back and ex-NFL player Tony Baker.

Whether or not you choose to print this column out and stuff it in your stocking, please know that it comes from my heart. And if you have a little bit of idle time around the fireplace over the Christmas break, feel free to come up with your own tangled webs from any prominent person to any Pirate. If you come up with some good ones, please share them with me -- instead of that fruitcake you were going to send over.

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12/18/2013 05:25 AM