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NEWS, NOTES & COMMENTARY
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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, November 24, 2006

By Bethany Bradsher

Walston clan's dispute all in the family

Saturday's N.C. State-East Carolina game adds fuel to long-simmering but good-natured intra-family rivalry

©2006 Bonesville.net
All rights reserved.

TOPSAIL BEACH — Amid leftover pies and half-full plates of turkey, the Walston family sat around their beach house and engaged in a little bit of Thanksgiving trash talking.

Bobby Walston, a North Carolina State alumnus, and his nephew Matt, now a student at NCSU, said that they try to use small, simple words when talking with Bobby’s brother Robbie and his brother-in-law Bill Wilder, both East Carolina graduates.

One assurance of a Pirate win in Saturday’s game was met with a, “you want to make a little wager on that?” from the Wolfpack man across the room.

And at one point, when Robbie categorized the season’s last game as “do or die,” his younger brother said quietly, “It makes it that much sweeter to bring them down.”

“We don’t even need to be playing them,” said Robbie Walston, whose youngest daughter Morgan started at ECU this fall. “We’re on a different level. They shouldn’t even be on our schedule.”

Hanging outside the Walston family beach house is a flag that vividly tells the story of the contrasting loyalties within. Half red and half purple, it proclaims the beachfront property “A House Divided.”

Until just a few years ago, a simple Pirate flag adorned the doorway, Robbie Walston said, because he and his wife Jeri and their oldest daughter had all graduated from ECU.

But then son Matt decided to defect west, joining his Uncle Bobby and his family on the Wolfpack side of the fence. And reluctantly, Robbie hung the new flag emblazoned with a mascot no self-respecting Pirates fan really wants to use in his décor.

It seems that the flag has grown on him, though. As the wind and rain from this week’s Nor’easter blew trashcans and chairs around the beach road on Tuesday, Robbie remembered the flag. He asked his sister Susan Williams, another ECU graduate, to go out and save it from the elements.

With children Andrew, Eric and Nicole pausing from their play long enough to express NCSU loyalties, Bobby offered his prediction: That while the Wolfpack players have no postseason possibilities to motivate them and don’t seem to have any particular loyalty to embattled coach Chuck Amato, they will defeat the Pirates in Carter-Finley Stadium out of home stadium pride, “just to save face.”

Meanwhile Pirate alums Robbie Walston and in-law Wilder, a former ECU baseball player, cast their votes for the best ECU-NCSU contest in their memories. Lewis, who has attended the past five games between the two teams, is partial to the Peach Bowl win, while Walston leans toward the 1999 victory in Greenville.

I certainly don’t have the Pirate pedigree of those men, but that 1999 game has been on my mind this week, too. The closest I’ve ever come to getting trampled on a football field was on November 20 of that year, when I watched ecstatic ECU fans rush the field after their Pirates defeated the Wolfpack 23-6 to clinch an 8-3 record and a bid to the Mobile Alabama Bowl.

On Saturday night Pirate faithful like the purple side of the Walston family hope to be reminded of that historic afternoon. ECU may lack the home-field advantage this time around, but it has some of the elements that made 1999’s final chapter extraordinary — an overachieving team and a boatload of emotion.

That 1999 squad was keyed by a take-no-prisoners defense featuring gritty young men — Jeff Kerr, Norris McCleary — that seemed to get energy from each yard it denied to the teams across the line. This fall that purple curtain has come from leaders like Quentin Cotton and Jamar Flournoy, defenders who understand what it means when a defense puts a team’s fortunes squarely on its back.

Saturday night would have been huge for the Pirate Nation no matter what, but if the disastrous visit to Rice last week has any upside at all, it is the extra weight that defeat gave to this week’s contest. Under different circumstances, this game might have been driven by spirit alone. Now, that passion is accompanied by high stakes, stakes that could lead to a postseason trip for at least some of the Walston family.

Send an e-mail message to Bethany Bradsher.

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02/23/2007 01:13:27 AM

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