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Thursday, October 27, 2005

By Al Myatt

Dark day in '93 felled a star, derailed a season

Renewal of ECU-UCF series spurs flashback of grisly injury to ECU legend


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It was a play that will live in infamy.

It happened 12 years ago. While it didn't cost East Carolina a game, it did cost the Pirates a season.

To many among the Pirate Nation, it is THE indelible memory from the four-game Central Florida-ECU series that will be renewed on Saturday in Greenville in a new Conference USA context. Yes, it stands out more than the performances of a former Knights quarterback by the name of Daunte Culpepper.

The perpetrator of the horrific incident from the Pirates perspective was UCF defensive end Emil Ekiyor. The victim was ECU freshman quarterback Marcus Crandell. It happened in a 41-17 Pirates win in Greenville on Sept. 18, 1993.

Crandell rolled out to pass on a naked bootleg and after releasing the ball was horse-collared by Ekiyor.

"I threw the ball and took a couple of steps," said Crandell, who now plays for the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League. "Somebody grabbed me from behind and threw me down. It was definitely late."

Crandell sustained a dislocated ankle and fractured fibula. The severity of the injury was apparent to the crowd because his foot and lower leg were grotesquely contorted, dangling at an angle from the rest of the limb.

The damage to ECU's 1993 hopes was also ugly. The team limped to a 1-8 record for the remainder of the season without Crandell. The Pirates went 2-9 overall.

"I had worked hard in the offseason and won the starting job in spring camp," Crandell recalled. "(The injury) was devastating. ... I only saw it one time (on tape) and I just caught the end of it because I didn't want to watch it."

Then-ECU coach Steve Logan turned to Chris Hester to replace Crandell but Hester was injured the following week in a 35-0 loss at Washington. Perez Mattison, who finished his career as a defensive back, eventually was forced into action under center.

"We had Danny Gonzalez, but I didn't want to use his redshirt year and affect his progression," said Logan, a proven guru in the development of quarterbacks. "So we bit the bullet. But I knew after we lost Marcus, we might as well write off the season."

The Pirates were a study in contrasts before and after the picture with and without the budding star from nearby Robersonville Roanoke High.

View Ron Cherubini's Pirate Time Machine feature on Marcus Crandell: Great White North Suits Former ECU QB Just Fine...

With Crandell healthy for most of the next three years, the Pirates recovered to win 24 of 35 games, including a 19-13 victory over Stanford in the 1995 Liberty Bowl. Crandell threw for 7,198 yards and 58 touchdowns in his Pirate career.

A second opinion

Many Pirate fans among a crowd of 30,867, who pelted the playing surface with enough debris to make it look like a landfill, saw Ekiyor's actions as criminal assault, as brazen and cold-blooded as Jack Ruby in a Dallas garage.

Not Alan Gooch.

Gooch played at UCF and was running backs coach for the Golden Knights in 1993. He later became Executive Director of the Golden Knights Club and is now involved with an Orlando real estate firm.

The severity of Crandell's broken leg is etched in his memory.

"It made me wince," Gooch said.

But he doesn't think Ekiyor meant to do it.

"I remember how the fans reacted, but we ran the tape back and it was a freak thing," Gooch said. "Emil was pursuing with his arms out. He was actually blocked into Marcus and they landed awkwardly. We told him it wasn't his fault and we showed him that on the tape."

That contention wouldn't get Gooch so much as the skin of a chicken wing from ECU tailgaters on Saturday, but he won't be making the trip anyway. He may be badly-misguided in terms of the Pirate take on that bit of history, but he is connected. His prominent acquaintances include retired Greenville businessman Parker Overton and daughter, Kristi, a world champion water skier.

"Kristi married a defensive back who played at Central Florida," Gooch said.

Gooch also said he had spoken to Orlando resident Ron Dowdy — as in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium — on Tuesday. Dowdy will be on hand for ECU's clash with UCF, according to Gooch.

And Gooch also has heard from the notorious culprit Ekiyor.

"He called me about a year ago from Indianapolis," Gooch said. "He was asking me to be a reference for a high school job he was after."

More on Ekiyor

Ekiyor, who was born on Christmas Day in 1973, was the son of an African ambassador to the United States, according to Gooch. He set a school basketball season record at Port Orange (FL) High with 120 blocked shots his senior year. He was a football team captain at UCF in 1995.

Ekiyor appeared in the Adam Sandler blockbuster comedy movie "Waterboy," which was released in 1998.

After spending seven seasons in the NFL with Tampa Bay, Indianapolis, Atlanta and Oakland before retiring in 2003, Ekiyor became director of the Touch a Life Foundation, a non-profit organization that assists at-risk youth ages 10-17 in Marion County, IN.

If Ekiyor had bad intentions toward Crandell in that 1993 game at ECU, he apparently has changed for the better.

Pirate protagonist still a pro

Crandell has been through some changes himself, the most recent being the birth of his son, Carmelo George, who will be eight months old next week.

"Fatherhood is great," Crandell said. "I'm loving it. They change your life. That's for sure."

Martin County has declared Dec. 21 as "Marcus Crandell Day."

"It's different up here from East Carolina and back home in Robersonville," Crandell said. "At ECU, my family and friends could come see me play. But my wife (Mona) has family here so it feels like home here in a way. And everybody knows everybody up here so it feels like home in that way, too."

View Ron Cherubini's Pirate Time Machine feature on Marcus Crandell: Great White North Suits Former ECU QB Just Fine...

The highlight of Crandell's pro career was winning the Grey Cup, the Super Bowl of the CFL, with the Calgary Stampeders in 2001. He's in his eighth year in the CFL. The Roughriders have a key game Nov. 5 in terms of their playoff hopes. That's following an open date this week.

Logan recruited Crandell to play quarterback while many programs indicated a position change was imminent on the next level.

He wanted to play quarterback and that closed the deal for ECU. Even with that ugly detour in 1993, Crandell is still reaping the benefits of that decision.

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02/23/2007 12:33:41 AM

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