Jeff Blake during his time with the
Cincinnati Bengals. (Submitted photo)
In 1983, Ed Emory’s ECU
Pirates nearly shocked the college football world when they went 8-3
with painfully narrow losses to a trio of top-ranked, high profile
Florida schools. Though the team was left out of the bowl season, an
identity was born: The Pirates could and would play anyone, anywhere,
and stood a good chance to beat those opponents.
Unfortunately, that identity
lasted all of a season and took nearly a decade to for the Pirates to
establish a new identity among college football’s name-recognized
But, in 1991, the Pirates,
indeed, re-announced the program to the football world in the form of an
11-1 season, capped with a stunning bowl victory in the Peach Bowl and a
top-10 national ranking.
That re-birth has carried the
Pirates since – even through the pain of the John Thompson experiment.
In 1991 and arguably since
that championship season, former Pirates quarterback Jeff Blake has
served as the involuntary face of the Pirates program. And, really, a
marketing professional couldn’t have picked a better symbol of the
Pirates’ quest for respect and penchant for finding success against a
wave of naysayers than Blake.
Jeff Blake in 2009
Recently, Blake sat down for
a spin in
Bonesville’s Pirate Time Machine and talked
about his path in sports, his time at ECU and his 14-year professional
football career. Even today, following a longevity reserved for only a
few in the NFL, Blake carries a chip on his shoulder – and rightly so
for many reasons.
Among the topics that the
former Pirate great talked about were his 14 year career that began as a
6th round draft pick for the New York Jets, hit a glorious
highpoint in Cincinnati and then moved along through New Orleans,
Phoenix, Minnesota, Baltimore, Philadelphia and finally Chicago. Chief
among his reflections on what was a great career that was highlighted by
more than 21,000 passing yards and 134 TDs, was the wish that just one
of the teams that he played for had made a commitment to him as their
quarterback and built a team around him.
Blake, who is currently an
executive with Triton Financial, experienced an NFL that still hasn’t
quite accepted the black quarterback and though he is very pleased to
see players like former Pirate David Garrard manning starting positions
in the League, he knows full-well that the percentage of black QBs in
the league hasn’t changed much since he was playing.
Blake also spoke about the
thrill of being able to experience his son Emory’s stellar high school
career and his upcoming career as a highly-touted freshman at Auburn and
on his daughter’s desire to make ECU home soon. Blake reflected on his
role at Triton Financial and his other business endeavors. And, mostly,
Blake elaborated on his path to East Carolina and his affinity to his
What has not changed over the
years is Blake’s confidence. Confidence in what he knows and does. It
was this confidence that was so clearly visible during his playing days
at ECU and most notable in 1991. His ability to lift his teammates and
to create the reality behind the “I Believe” mantra that came of age
that season is still very much evident in Blake today.
It took a 4-year starter, in
Garrard, to finally knock Blake from the top of many of the ECU
quarterback records and Blake will remind you that he did what he did in
Blake, an ECU Hall of Fame
member, is very much on top of East Carolina and its program and expects
this year’s team to make big noise.
Check out this year’s
Bonesville The Magazine to catch up with former