NEWS, NOTES &
Friday, October 26, 2007
By Bethany Bradsher
Fan experience trying for
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Every year as the Homecoming game approaches,
media members inevitably ask the players and coaches about the event. After
all, when you cover a team for 11 straight weeks you’ll grasp at any unique
hook for a story.
Skip Holtz and his players gave the appropriate
answers this week about Homecoming: It’s a special weekend, a good catalyst
for fan spirit.
But in the intense routine of preparing for a
Division I football game, the Homecoming festivities are not really even on
the radar for the ones who will occupy the trenches Saturday against UAB.
Just ask Eric Graham, who started 33 consecutive
games on the ECU offensive line and graduated in May. He doesn’t have far to
travel — Graham is living and working in Greenville — but he is altogether
less than enthusiastic about the prospect of “coming home” to Dowdy-Ficklen
Stadium this weekend.
Graham certainly cares about what the Pirates do
on the field, and he isn’t unsentimental. It’s just that there are a few
things about the whole football-game-as-fan experience that take a little
getting used to when you’ve been putting on pads and a helmet since you were
a Pop Warner tike.
The seats are too small for Graham’s 6-foot-6,
332-pound frame. He doesn’t drink, and he inevitably ends up sitting near
drunken fans that feel the need to offer their own nuggets of coaching
advice over their beers. Those are Graham’s friends out there, and he
usually agrees with the decisions the coaches are making, he said.
“I just don’t like dealing with all the extra
coaches in the stands,” said Graham, who was named second-team
All-Conference USA in 2006. “I went to one home game and I left early. I
just couldn’t take it.”
He has watched the rest of the games, home and
away, from the comfort of his couch, although he is reluctantly planning to
brave the stands again Saturday, he said, especially if former teammate
James Myrick makes the trip from Virginia.
He apologizes in advance if someone in front of
him stands up and he has to stand in front of you to see the field, he says.
When he opts to stand rather than squeeze into his seat, he blocks more than
one fan behind him.
Graham still prefers the wide-open spaces found
on the field, or the even larger stadium he helped occupy during the three
months he was in camp with the Carolina Panthers. He played during the
Panther’s mini camps and training camps and saw time during each preseason
game, but he was asked to turn in his playbook the day before the final cuts
“Before the very first preseason game, I
actually went in the stadium about two hours before,” said Graham, who is
now working as a mentor with Carter Behavioral Health Services. “I was
thinking, ‘Wow, I actually got here.’”
His stay in the big game was all too short, of
course, but Graham hasn’t quite given up on the idea of playing on. He has
tried out with both the Arena Football League and the new All-American
Football League, which is set to begin play in 2008 with six teams.
Of course, as Graham is cramped in his stadium
seat, there will be plenty of fans around him who have warm feelings for
Homecoming weekend, especially for those coming to town for alumni reunions
like the some-400 returnees expected for the Black Alumni Reunion or the
special festivities for the Golden Alumni class of 1957.
In fact, maybe it would be a good idea to sit
brand-new football alumni like Graham with the Golden group. They’ve
acquired enough wisdom over the years to refrain from drinking excessively
and cursing the coaches, and they’re likely to stay in their seats so that
Graham doesn’t have to stand and create a major viewing obstacle.
It’s just a thought.
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10/26/2007 02:37:03 AM