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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, April 25, 2008

By Bethany Bradsher

Sports celebs left an impression

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

Impressive, people. Your minds are one collective steel trap.

I asked for input about the most famous athletes ever to take a field, or a court, or a starting block against the Pirates, and you responded with a virtual wave of East Carolina nostalgia.

From the obvious (Brett Favre) to the surprising (Mark Spitz!), you educated me thoroughly on the stellar talent that has come and often gotten the better of Pirate squads.

Thanks to you, the results are in. I present to you "The Top Ten ECU Athletic Houseguests of the Past Half Century:"

  1. Brett Favre — In 1988 and again in 1990, the legendary ex-Packers quarterback came to town with his Southern Miss Golden Eagles. Both times Favre and his team got the better of the Pirates, first with a 45-42 squeaker and two years later in a defensive battle, winning 16-7.

    Dozens of people mentioned Favre’s appearances Down East, but Roy Whaley (ECU ‘83) described those days with brevity and truth:

    “I remember seeing Brett Favre from Southern Miss ruin an ECU football game in Greenville,” he said.

    But for all of Favre’s dominance in the pocket, Danny Couch (ECU ‘82) had a different kind of recollection from the 1990 contest:

    “Favre was the difference in the game, but the most memorable play, one I'll never forget, was Favre sprinting for the right sideline, looking downfield, when Robert Jones came out of nowhere and bone
    crushed him with a move more reminiscent of pro wrestling than football,” Couch said. “Favre never saw Jones streaking up behind him, and Robert collared him headlock-style around the back of the neck, smacking down flat on his butt into a driver's position and driving Favre face-first into the ground.
    “I will always remember Favre getting up on both knees, dazed, after fumbling the ball out of bounds, and picking the mud grass out of his facemask. Without question, it was one of the biggest hits I ever saw delivered at ECU, by one of our best to ever play, on one of the best to ever visit.”

  2. David Robinson — First with the Naval Academy, and for 14 years with the San Antonio Spurs, Robinson defined class and athleticism in the middle. He competed at East Carolina while he was a Midshipman four times, from 1984 to 1987, and each time the Admiral and his crew capsized the Pirates.

    Ralph Wright remembers that even in those days, Minges Coliseum had a reputation as being less than hospitable. Robinson once told a reporter that it was the toughest place he had to play on the road.

  3. Terry Bradshaw — Bradshaw came to town as a Louisiana Tech senior, on Sept. 27, 1969, and his Bulldogs dominated ECU 24-6.

    “We had him pinned up several times, tacklers all over him but he would not come down,” Jerry Hodnett recalled. “Instead, he used his brute strength to unload pass after pass right on target. I don't remember the stats that night, but unknown Terry put on a show.”

  4. Pete Maravich — Pistol Pete’s trip to Greenville was one of the most obscure. Mike Yorke was my only collaborator who remembered that Maravich came to ECU in the mid-60s as a player with Edwards Military Institute. His team competed against the ECC freshman squad and Maravich, said Yorke, “scored from every spot on the floor that night.”

  5. Eugene “Mercury” Morris — An All-American at West Texas A&M (then known as West Texas State) in the 1960s and later a three-time Pro Bowl running back with the Dolphins and the Chargers, Morris and his teammates defeated the Pirates 37-13 on Nov. 11, 1967. Yorke had a vivid recollection of that performance from the future member of the 1972 Miami undefeated team:

    “When Morris got loose anywhere on the field that day there was nobody – on either team – that could keep up with him,” he said. “A literal blur.”

  6. Mark Spitz — Props to John Sultan, the captain of the ECU swim team in 1968-’69, for the tidbit that the seven-time Olympic gold medalist Spitz swam in Minges Natatorium at the USA Swimming Nationals in 1968, four years before his Olympic triumph in Munich.

  7. Deion Sanders — “Prime Time” is a carryover from last week’s column, but his performance in Ficklen Stadium on Sept. 12, 1987, bears restating. Florida State minimizes the Pirates 44-3, and the Seminoles have never returned. Sanders becomes a two-time collegiate All-American, and he hasn’t left our national consciousness since.

  8. Brian Piccolo — This one gets my sentimental vote, since as a child I was fairly obsessed with “Brian’s Song.” Piccolo, whose heart wrenching story of his friendship with Gale Sayers and too-young death from cancer was made into a memorable book and film, played at ECU in the first-ever game at Ficklen Stadium. It was Sept. 21, 1963, and the Pirates christened their new digs by defeating Piccolo’s Wake Forest squad 20-10.

  9. Dwyane Wade — He may have been the MVP of the NBA Finals in 2006, but Wade is one of the few on our list whose presence wasn’t enough to quell the Pirates when he played here. Twice in 2002 – on Feb. 26 and during the next season on Dec. 30 – Wade’s Marquette squad came to Minges Coliseum and fell to the Pirates. It’s safe to say that Wade helped make the Minges Maniacs what they are today.

  10. Marvin Harrison — This eight-time Pro Bowl receiver played at Dowdy-Ficklen three times: In 1992, ’93 and ’94. In all three matchups, ECU fell to Harrison’s strong Syracuse team. That streak put an end to the Syracuse home contests for several years, so Harrison’s fellow Orangeman Donovan McNabb, who came to the school right as Harrison entered the NFL, never played the Pirates on their home turf.

Also receiving votes: Coaches Jim Valvano, Lefty Driesell, Art Baker and Frank McGuire, Morris’s West Texas teammate Duane Thomas, Bobby Cremins (who played in Greenville with South Carolina in 1969 and coached in Minges Coliseum with Appalachian in 1977). And there were a couple who just sat in the stands to watch games at ECU: Howie Long and Steve Spurrier.

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04/25/2008 03:14:18 AM

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