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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, December 1, 2006

By Bethany Bradsher

Pirates chasing a demon in Dixie

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American sports fans love to tally up streaks: most games in a row with a reception, longest home winning streak, most overtime games against a team that wears blue jerseys.

But this, Pirate fans, is one streak that is begging to be broken.

East Carolina is 0-9 on Alabama soil, and 0-4 in the cavernous environs of Legion Field. A victory against (insert undetermined Big East opponent here) on Dec. 23 will exorcise plenty of War Eagle, Tide and Blazer demons from Pirate teams past.

In the spirit of turning things around as ECU prepares for its next Birmingham challenge, I offer a look back at the some of the low points of previous Pirate excursions into the Heart of Dixie:

  • Dec. 9, 2001 – GMAC Bowl in Mobile. In an ironic bit of foreshadowing, ECU quarterback David Garrard faced off against Byron Leftwich, whom he would later battle for the starting job with the Jacksonville Jaguars. On this night, though, Leftwich overshadowed his eventual backup, throwing for 576 yards to Garrard’s 161 and leading the Thundering Herd to a 64-61 double-overtime victory.

  • A trifecta of heartbreak at Auburn’s Jordan Hare Stadium. The Pirates played there three times in ten years and came out on the losing side every time. First, in 1985 they lost to the Tigers 35-10, then they were shut out 45-0 in 1986, and finally they played again in 1994 and were defeated 38-21.

  • A near miss in the Pirates’ only meeting with the Crimson Tide. Five years after the last of Alabama’s 12 national championships, the two teams lined up on Oct. 17, 1998, at Legion Field, which serves as the Tuscaloosa-based team’s sometime home. The Tide, which was coached at the time by Mike Dubose, squeaked by 23-22.

  • The Mobile Alabama Bowl on Dec. 22, 1999. Taking the air out of the Pirates’ sails after a thrilling 9-3 season were the Texas Christian Horned Frogs, led by a running back named LaDainian Tomlinson, who was at that time little known outside Conference USA. Tomlinson made sure the Pirate Nation would always remember him with 124 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and ECU did worse than standing in place, finishing the game with minus 16 yards rushing.

  • A history of underachieving against perennial middle-of-the-pack finishers UAB. The state of Alabama really had the Pirates’ number in 1999 (see above), which was the only year in which ECU fell twice in the Yellowhammer State. The other time that year was a 36-17 loss to the Blazers at Legion Field on Nov. 6, 1999. Two other losses to UAB came on Nov. 16, 2002, when the Pirates fell 36-29, and – most painfully for its proximity to the present – the 17-12 loss on Sept. 9 of this year. Both defeats were absorbed, of course, at Legion Field, a stadium that was built in 1926 and is said to seat 83,091 fans. With the possible exception of that 1998 Alabama game, the Pirates haven’t seen much in that venue except a preponderance of empty seats. UAB is not known for its overwhelming fan base.

Dark and gloomy though this tour may have been, it has not been my intention to rain on anyone’s purple parade. The general impression in Pirate Land seems to be that the tide has turned – no pun intended – and that ECU football is on the road to glory. If a 0-9 Alabama streak gets broken at the Bowl, the Pirates have yet one more piece of evidence that this indeed is a new day.

Even when the site of redemption must come in the state that gave us Hank Aaron, Jesse Owens, Willie Mays, Bo Jackson and Charles Barkley.

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02/23/2007 01:13:30 AM

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