ECU News, Notes and Commentary
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
By Bethany Bradsher
Rediscovering magic a trying
Quitting not an option
for storied East Carolina football program
Defensive coordinator Greg Hudson struck a chord
when he recalled Charles Dickens to characterize East Carolina's 45-13 loss
to Tulsa last weekend:
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of
in his Tuesday column, evoked Hudson's
reference to the famous passage from A Tale of Two Cities in summing
up the stark contrast between ECU's first half performance against the
Golden Hurricane and its subsequent second half meltdown.
dichotomy can be used to illustrate the nearly seven years I have spent
covering the East Carolina team, a span that has encompassed some of the
highest highs and the lowest lows in Pirate gridiron history.
I moved to
town in August of 1999 with almost no knowledge of East Carolina football.
(My expertise could probably be summed up as, “Jeff Blake played there,
didn’t he?) I found some freelance outlets willing to pay me to cover the
team, unaware that a real hurricane called Floyd and a game against a team
called the Hurricanes would converge to make it an unforgettable autumn.
to say, I lacked the perspective to truly appreciate what I was witnessing
during that 9-3 season, as the Pirates defeated Miami in Raleigh, became a
fixture in the AP Top 25 and concluded with a trip to the Mobile Alabama
Bowl. I just considered myself blessed to be an eyewitness to such a team.
the Blake-led miracle run of 1991, but the fall of 1999 was, for me, the
best of times.
past three seasons, I have become all too acquainted with the worst of
times. It’s hard to identify the lowest point, because in 2003 and 2004 the
defeats all ran together, a seemingly endless stream of press conferences
featuring a theme of unmet expectations. But somehow, the stumbles seem to
hurt worse this year.
coaching staff, experienced and excited, came in and injected hope into the
frustration that had started to surround the Pirates. Three victories in the
first five games seemed like a herald of the new era that the Pirate Nation
has desperately hoped to find just around the corner. The Southern Miss and
Memphis games were tough, but it was during the second half of the Tulsa
loss that things seemed the bleakest.
didn’t handle adversity very well on the road,” head coach Skip Holtz said
this week. “And from then on I don’t think it was about stats, it was not
about individual performances or anything else, it was about the momentum
and a mindset that started to go against us. At that point the same calls on
offense and defense that were working in the first half weren’t going very
saying — and meaning — all of the right things. It may be a tired old cliché
that adversity builds character, but it’s also true. If college is
ultimately about producing young men and women who can face up to the
challenges of life, then the upperclassmen on this Pirates team should be
ready for anything.
(were) so many goals set forth that they wanted to accomplish that are no
longer attainable,” Holtz said when the Pirates fell to 3-6 after the Tulsa
defeat. “But we’re still building for the future in this program. We’re
still building as we go through every single day.”
listened to the same missteps that have plagued ECU all year trip them up
again on Saturday, it struck me that assembling a miraculous season like
1999 is something like Peter Pan’s prescription for flying: faith, trust and
pixie dust. Talent and coaching count, of course, but the intangibles and
subtle mental factors can loom even larger.
I am, at
the core, an eternal optimist, and I know that the best of times can come
again soon for the Pirates. They have coaches with intelligence, vision and
decades of experience. Those coaches will pour themselves into recruiting
players who can run their schemes competitively to match up against the
formidable opponents that Terry Holland has been
scheduling for the coming years.
look solid, but the mortar will only come as this team finds its heart, its
swagger and its ability to wear victory like a set of comfortable clothes.
When those things converge, roughing the passer penalties and fumbles in the
red zone will become exceptions rather than the rule.
“As I told
the players, this is real life,” Holtz said. “What do you do? Do you close
your books, fold your tents and say, ‘It’s over, it’s gone.’ No, there’s an
awful lot of pride, there’s an awful lot of people that support this
program. We have an obligation to this university, to this program and to
the people who support it to go out there and play it with the same heart
and soul that we played the first half of the season with.”
to watch this team struggle, especially the seniors who have labored under
three different coaches and deserve an exuberant midfield celebration more
than anyone. I feel like a heel when I ask them questions about building the
foundation for the future, putting money in the bank for a Pirates team they
will only see from the bleachers.
victories to ice the season would go a long way toward easing the
disappointment that I’m sure has visited the players this week. But
ultimately, the Pirate Nation is already looking past those games and
thinking about late summer. It’s a season bathed in anticipation, in a fan’s
hope that 2006 will be the year when the best of times come back around.
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