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From the Anchor Desk
Tuesday, September 9, 2008

By Brian Bailey

Keeping the circus at bay

By Brian Bailey
All rights reserved.

Beating back-to-back nationally-ranked opponents may prove to be the easy part for Skip Holtz and this Pirate football team.

Coach Holtz says the Pirates have learned how to win. Now, learning how to handle winning is the big task as the Pirates head to Tulane this weekend.

The program has never seen the type of attention it has gotten over the last couple of weeks. Even in 1991, when East Carolina finished 9th in the nation, the national exposure just wasn’t the same.

ESPN now has daily college football shows. Over the last couple of weeks, East Carolina has been a topic in most if not all of that programming.

Holtz says “Welcome to big-time college football!”

He’s right, and it’s right at our back door.

The Pirates head south this weekend as a 13-point favorite. Last year Holtz carried the theme for his team to be “humble and hungry.” He knows that keeping this team focused will be his top priority.

“All those rankings, bowl predictions, speculation and everything else that people are doing on the outside are great because it creates a buzz, stir and excitement in the program," said Holtz at his weekly news conference on Monday.

“From a player standpoint in the locker room, though, we don't get seven points spotted to us because we're ranked and they're not," he cautioned. "The last two teams we played both had a ranking next to their name and we did not, and here we are 2-0. It doesn't mean anything at this point. You still have to line up and go play the game.

"We just have to make sure that we don't let the circus atmosphere around a winning program interrupt what we're trying to build right now in between the lines.”

The game with West Virginia was in limbo all week because of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Hanna. This week, it’s Hurricane Ike that is barreling down on the Gulf Coast.

East Carolina officials talked with those from Conference USA and Tulane about moving the game to Greenville, in case Ike is as bad as many say it will be. That move was turned down. One ECU official told me that the game would be played this weekend. If conditions warrant a move, the big question mark is the neutral site location.

"In controlling what we can control, there's a lot of talk about the hurricane and what's going to happen with it and if it's going to move up into the gulf area this week,” said Holtz. “I know there's been a lot of speculation and talk about what's going to happen with the game and if it's going to be moved here, at a neutral site, played there or anything like that.

"At this point, Tulane has made a decision that the game will not come here. They have other options if the game is not going to be played there, but at this point, I don't know what they are.

"As I told the team, we're going to approach it as if we're going to go to Tulane. That's the only way we can handle it at this point. Everything else is speculation until they tell us for sure that something has happened and the game has had to be moved to another location."

It will be a great challenge. Transitioning from playing in front of 70,000-plus one week and almost 44,000 the next to playing in a near-empty Louisiana Superdome or perhaps some neutral site on Saturday is an extreme contrast.

The "Big Four"

I had some time early Friday morning and decided to sneak out and get in nine holes before the rains from Hanna hit. Friday is usually a huge sports day, but the high schools had moved their games up to beat the storm.

On the third hole at Ironwood, I came up on a fivesome. They waved me through and I found out they were West Virginia fans, in for the game. They said they were going to get in 18, regardless of the weather!

They asked about the ‘hot spots’ in town and I said to hit Finelli’s and A.J. McMurphy’s, two of my favorites. I ran into them later at both places and they were most appreciative of the information I had given them.

By this time of the night, there must have been six or seven in the group. They said they were called “The Big Four,” but I don’t know if any of them knew which four were “The Big Four.” It must have been some of that funny West Virginia math.

As one of them was leaving Friday night, a Pirate fan wished him good luck. He smiled and said they wouldn’t need much, but thanks anyway.

I don’t think that group, or any of the West Virginia faithful, had any idea what was coming.

They were good guys, though, and will always remember their trip to Greenville.
Except they might need some more of that funny math when they think about the final score.


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Click here to dig into Brian Bailey's Bonesville archives.

09/09/2008 01:34:59 AM


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