Bonesville: The Authoritative Independent Voice of East Carolina
Daily News & Features from East Carolina, Conference USA and Beyond

Mobile Alpha Roundup Daily Beat Recruiting The Seasons Multimedia Historical Data Pirate Time Machine SportByte™ Weather

Insights and Observations


Henry's Highlights
Thursday, October 9, 2003

By Henry Hinton
Broadcaster & Owner of Greenville Cable 7

Feud with checkered past finally lands in Ficklen


It’s true that the game would never have been scheduled without involvement by the General Assembly. It’s also true that no one anticipated North Carolina's first visit to Greenville on Saturday to pit an 0-5 Tar Heel team against an 0-5 East Carolina squad.

Regardless of the disappointing records, UNC head coach John Bunting likes the idea of the two teams playing.

“I think it’s great for football and great for the two schools,” Bunting told a radio and television audience Wednesday night on Cable 7’s Midweek Tailgate Show.

Bunting better be careful. Even chancellors get fired for thinking that way these days. (Just kidding, Molly).

Bunting was not around for the fireworks that typified the Pirates-Tar Heels series in the 'seventies and 'eighties, but having played in Chapel Hill for Bill Dooley he certainly understands what its all about.

Earlier this summer, I recapped in Bonesville Magazine some of the odd and bizarre things that have occurred leading up to this game. It seems totally appropriate to revisit that history as the “Biggest Game in the History of Greenville” approaches. (Well, it was going to be before both teams started losing).

These two schools did not need any additional reasons to dislike each other. Being 100 miles apart should be enough. But it was the policy to not play other in-state non-conference schools by UNC that really created newfound animosity some twenty-five or so years ago. Said policy was curiously adopted in the late seventies when the Pirate program was gaining momentum and beginning to defeat schools like N. C. State, Duke and Virginia with some regularity.

Then UNC-Chapel Hill Director of Athletics Bill Cobey (currently a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor in 2004) announced that his program would no longer be scheduling ECU. Most Pirate fans translated that as Cobey’s unwillingness to subject his program to potential defeat and the type of alumni humiliation and recruiting competition that a loss to ECU had created for others, including his neighbors in Raleigh.

About that time, Cobey was invited to speak to a rabid group of fans (mostly Pirates) at a meeting of the now-defunct Greenville Sports Club in the old Ramada Inn. Those in attendance that day felt Cobey had come to Greenville to try and explain himself. During the question and answer part of his appearance things understandably turned a little hostile for him.

Cobey was actually rescued that day by an unusual ally when East Carolina head coach Pat Dye, who was in attendance just to listen, stood up and made an attempt to calm the crowd by saying in his deep south style: “Listen boys, ya’ll lay off Mr. Cobey. He’s just doing what he thinks is best for his program. This don’t mean we won’t ever play ‘em again. It just means we ain’t gonna’ play right now”

Prophetic words from Coach Dye. Many could not help but remember those strange comments from the ECU coach in years to come when rumors persisted that the he had an interest in leaving Greenville to become the coach in Chapel Hill or maybe even Raleigh. Interestingly, the only thing that prevented that from happening was a policy set forth by UNC System President Bill Friday that disallowed one school in the public university system from hiring a coach from a sister institution.

It is widely known that Dye had tried to cut a back door deal to go to N.C. State when leaving ECU. That part of Pirate history served to enhance the already white hot animosity between the in-state programs and marred the admiration many had for Dye and the program he had built in Greenville. Many say it is the reason Dye has never been inducted into the ECU Hall of Fame.

There is no denying that before leaving Greenville some of Dye’s greatest coaching efforts went into the games played against the Tar Heels. Before Cobey’s new policy went into effect the Pirates lined up against UNC-Chapel Hill eight times, all in Kenan Stadium. The thought of them coming to Greenville seemed nothing short of ridiculous back in those days.

The first game took place the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 1972 when North Carolina handed Sonny Randle’s Pirates a 42-19 spanking, dashing any hopes that the upstarts from the east would make a statement. But it was the next year when the real hostilities began.

In the second meeting, which took place on October 27, 1973, the game ended in a controversy that started what has been a 30-year feud. The Pirates were featuring the best player in their history in the tall lumbering running back Carlester Crumpler. ECU had won Crumpler’s services two years earlier in a recruiting battle which marked the first time an instate marquee’ high school player had chosen purple over blue or red.

“Early in the game, we went in trying not to get embarrassed like we had the year beforek” Crumpler recalls. “But then things started to change. We realized we were good enough to compete with them and maybe even win the game.”

Late in the game, ECU had amazingly mustered a 27-21 lead over the heralded Tar Heels. Could this be happening? Tiny East Carolina taking it to the state’s flagship university on its own turf? Then, just as the ECU defense seemed to have stopped the Heels on a critical third down play late in the fourth quarter, it happened.

A flag. A late flag. A very late flag.

Pirate defensive back Reggie Pinkney was accused of pass interference as UNC tight end Charles Waddell reached for a pass that seemed uncatchable. Nonetheless, the Tar Heel drive stayed alive all the way to the end zone and North Carolina escaped the ultimate embarrassment by winning the game 28-27.

“I will never forget it”, said Crumpler. “It’s just one of those things you absolutely never forget. We had them stopped and then we saw that flag come in. I’ve had contact with Waddell several times in years since then and I always kid him about it. But there were some hard feelings at the time because beating them would have been a big step for us and for the East Carolina program.”

The two teams would meet again in 1975, just one day after word filtered around the East Carolina family that Clarence Stasavich, who many considered the father of ECU football, had passed away. An inspired group of Pirates took to the field in Kenan Stadium on October 25th and won one for “Stas,” defeating North Carolina 38-17, the only ECU victory in the series to date.

There have been other controversies including a late field goal in the game played in 1976 giving the Heels a 12-10 win. The Pirate quarterback for that game, Mike Weaver, has complained for years that the ball UNC kicker Jeff Arnold used to kick the 49-yarder was so huge and soft it looked like a basketball. Weaver swears UNC called time out before the kick so the special ball could be brought in for Arnold.

“That ball didn’t even have stripes on it”, said Weaver. “I think the kicker must have been using that same ball since he played in the punt, pass and kick competition in the eighth grade. I’ve never seen a ball like that before or since.”

That loss doomed Dye’s team that year. The Pirates had entered the game with a 6-0 record and just days before had received East Carolina’s first ever Top 20 national ranking at Number 19. After that they fell from the rankings and didn’t receive a bowl bid at season’s end.

In 1979, the Pirates and Tar Heels played to a 24-24 tie. The East Carolina program was growing and becoming a force in the region but the controversy was just beginning.

After losing to UNC-CH in 1980 by a score of 31-3, Pirate coach Ed Emory was looking for an edge on Dick Crum’s Tar Heel team for the upcoming contest in 1981. Did he look too hard and go too far? Crum accused Emory of sending spies the week of the game into the UNC Law School Library, which featured windows in a perfect spot to overlook Crum’s practice field.

The story from Chapel Hill goes like this: When the two ECU spies were approached and asked for identification they walked out of the library and got in their car. A check of the license plate of the car showed that it was owned by a Morehead City auto dealership which provided the ECU football coaches a courtesy car.

No wrongdoing was ever admitted by Emory, but the incident furthered the tension between the two Carolinas, East and North. Crum responded by routing the overmatched Pirates 56-0 in a game where he never called off the dogs but clearly could have.

After that, many folks in Chapel Hill got what they wanted and what Cobey had started years before — a hands off policy toward scheduling the Pirates. As ECU fans know too well, N.C. State followed suit in the early eighties, citing a post-game brawl in Raleigh and saying the rivalry had turned too ugly.

As the Pirate program gained national attention through the nineties, pressure began to build on UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State to play ECU again. It was through a somewhat bizarre set of circumstances that Pirate-prone legislators in the North Carolina General Assembly were able to make it happen.

While no one has ever confirmed the details of the circumstances surrounding the revitalization of the series, it is a known fact that in the mid-nineties a group of legislators including Greenville’s Senator Ed Warren lobbied for the help of Senator Marc Basnight, the most powerful man in Raleigh. Basnight convened a meeting of athletic directors including John Swofford from Chapel Hill and Todd Turner from N.C. State.

As the story goes, the timing was good because the Dean E. Smith Center was beginning to have operating statement problems. When the Dean Dome was built, projections showed it would be the number one venue in the area for concerts. However, a few years later a much larger and much trendier Walnut Creek Amphitheatre opened in Raleigh and took that position away making the dome operating profit diminish or even disappear.

The university was looking to the state for help. On the other side of the Triangle, N. C. State was locked in a somewhat controversial battle to get its new arena built.

Without the help of Basnight and the General Assembly, both arena projects would suffer significant problems. As the President Pro Tem of the Senate, Basnight has uncanny control of the budget. Even though he never went to college, living in Manteo his whole life gave him an allegiance to the east. A couple of phone calls here, a meeting or two there and all of a sudden both N.C. State and North Carolina were more than willing to resume the East Carolina series.

So, in 2001, perhaps the most painful of all the UNC-East Carolina meetings took place as the series resumed in Chapel Hill. Many say it was the beginning of the end for Pirate coach Steve Logan. One bizarre play after another marred an otherwise admirable ECU performance. A come from behind strip of Art Brown just a nanosecond before he was crossing the goal line cost ECU one score.

An 80-yard touchdown pass from David Garrard to Richard Alston was called back for holding by a Conference USA official. ECU coaches to this day say there is no hold on the game tape. Then a pass that was a certain interception went right through ECU secondary player Brandon Ranier’s hands. The carom directed the ball directly into the hands of a Tar Heel receiver laying on the ground in the end zone. Those three plays made a 21 point difference in the game.

The Heels walked away with a 24-21 victory and the emotional drain on the players and coaches would not leave the Pirate program for a season and a half. It is almost as if the damage done to Logan’s program that day was insurmountable. An ECU victory that day could very well have led the Pirates and Logan down a different road. But, the negative momentum and unhappiness of fans in the state prevailed.

So now the moment is here. ECU finally gets the Heels on the Dowdy-Ficklen turf this Saturday. Will the venue and a rabid home crowd create a different outcome? The series now stands at 1-7-1. If history tells us anything the game will be filled with emotion and possibly involve a controversy or two.

It has to be that way. It’s the Pirates and the Tar Heels. Many locals, including yours truly will be thinking of Senator Warren and former ECU Chancellor Leo Jenkins on Saturday and wishing they were still around to be a part of it all.

Send an e-mail message to Henry Hinton.

Click here to dig into Henry Hinton's archives.

02/23/2007 10:12:15 AM


©2001-2002-2003-2004-2005-2006-2007-2008-2009-2010-2011-2012-2013 All rights reserved.
Articles, logos, graphics, photos, audio files, video files and other content originated on this site are the proprietary property of
None of the articles, logos, graphics, photos, audio files, video files or other content originated on this site may be reproduced without written permission.
This site is not affiliated with East Carolina University. View's Privacy Policy. Advertising contact: 252-349-3280; Editorial contact:; 252-444-1905.