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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.
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.