When my sister called from Texas this morning to check on my two kids who are home evacuated from UNC-Wilmington, she proposed, “Maybe that college should consider starting classes after hurricane season ends.”
Some might say the same of the East Carolina football season, so prominently have names like Floyd, Florence and Matthew figured in the history of the program.
Even though there is every reason to think that the impending weather accompanying Hurricane Dorian will clear just in time for the Pirates’ home opener, coastal hurricanes have nonetheless wreaked their share of havoc on ECU’s carefully planned early-season schedules for decades.
A few highlights (or low-pressure-lights) from the hurricanes that have come to the region intent on tangling with the football Pirates:
• On October 16, 1954, Hurricane Hazel beat a rapid path through the Carolinas, taking ECU students by surprise on the day before the Homecoming game against Western Carolina. But even though classes were cancelled and the entire campus lost power in the Category 4 squall, the game went on the next day, and the Pirates felled the Catamounts 27-13.
• When the catastrophic Hurricane Floyd came through on September 16, 1999, the Pirates were in Columbia, SC, after a game against the Gamecocks. Rather than return to flood-ravaged Eastern North Carolina, the team stayed in the Palmetto State all week. When their upcoming home contest against the Miami Hurricanes (can’t make this up) was moved to Carter-Finley Stadium, the Pirates made history with a 27-23 victory that vaulted them into the Top 25.
• The ECU team was far from the path of the storm when Hurricane Matthew hit the East Coast on October 8, 2016, but the aftereffects of the event kept them from getting home as planned. After a diverted flight, a failed attempt at a bus trip and a night with the players divided in two hotels, the Pirates finally made it back to campus.
• The most recent hurricane-related football incident happened just a year ago, when reports days before Hurricane Florence’s arrival had the Category 3 storm coming right through Greenville. The storm’s path moved south, but not before ECU officials had decided to cancel the Pirates’ trip to Virginia Tech, drawing criticism from Hokie officials and casting doubt on the future of the ECU-VT series.
With that colorful history, count Ryan Robinson as one of many among the Pirate faithful who hopes that Hurricane Dorian’s impact on the area will be minimal and the end result more similar to the Hurricane Hazel tale than any of the others.
All signs point to a nice day on Saturday for kickoff against Gardner-Webb, so even though athletic officials will monitor the storm’s effects with an abundance of caution, Robinson is confident that the home opener will give the Pirate Nation something to enjoy after days of anxiety.
“I think it’s going to clear out here and make for a great day,” said Robinson, ECU’s executive associate athletics director for external operations. “Probably everybody is going to get in a little early Saturday just to assess, but we feel good about what we have planned.”
With a slate of new fan experiences ranging from the Pirate Walk on the south side of the stadium to the new kids zone area, lower concession prices and an opportunity for fans to go on the field for thirty minutes after the game ends, Robinson is anxious to unveil 2019’s version of game day.
Head coach Mike Houston and athletic director Jon Gilbert have been speaking to students, alumni, and boosters in an effort to regain their trust and draw them back to the enhanced Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
“We know fans are in a wait-and-see mode, and we have to win them back,” Robinson said. “What makes this place special is a 50,000-seat stadium that not too long ago was full. But we’re going to be transparent, it’s not going to be full on Saturday, but we’re going to make our way there.
“We have to win the customer service game. We have to.”