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Notes, Quotes and Slants

Pirate Notebook No. 147
Tuesday, October 7, 2003

By Denny O'Brien
Staff Writer and Columnist

Stakes much different this time around


The last time East Carolina faced North Carolina on the gridiron, the stakes were high. After a 20-year cease-fire in the rivalry, it was that golden opportunity to topple the Tar Heels the Pirates had long coveted.

For UNC, it presented the chance to solidify its supremacy over an in-state school it perceived as inferior.

It also was the perfect matchup, thought many observers, to determine which program could stake a legitimate claim as the state's best in 2001.

Oh, how times have changed.

Move over Clash of the In-State Titans. Make room for a couple of winless weaklings. Welcome to the 2003 Porcelain Bowl.

As cliché as it may sound, little more than regional pride and bragging rights are on the line Saturday.

If it weren't for the historical significance of the Heels' first trip to Greenville — not to mention the infrequency of the backyard battle in general — interest in this match-up would be zilch.

"If anybody needs to get motivated for (Saturday), I think they don't need to be here," Pirates quarterback Paul Troth said. "I think that game speaks for itself.

"If anybody needs to get motivated, they need to check themselves. The motivation is there."

But the luster isn't. Aside from the color schemes and helmet logos, little in Saturday's showdown will resemble the high-profile meeting that produced a 24-21 thriller two years ago.

Gone are many of the faces and intriguing storylines which drew media attention from the Crystal Coast to the Appalachians. For starters, East Carolina will feature an unfamiliar face on the sidelines, John Thompson, whose intimacy with the rivalry is minimal.

Former Pirates coach Steve Logan was a monarch east of I-95 and fully understood the ramifications of this territorial rumble. It easily can be argued that King Steve's throne began to slip that dreary day in Chapel Hill, as the battle-scarred Pirates limped home with broken hearts.

"I think it will be an emotional hemorrhage for the entire state of North Carolina," Logan said weeks prior to the game. "I think that they'll have trauma units everywhere, as it is anytime we play an in-state school."

Perhaps even more intriguing than the game and its emotions were the classic match-ups that took place on Kenan's turf. Who can forget that explosive 'Pitt County Offense' that was well-stocked with prolific playmakers, going against Julius Peppers and the Chapel Hill Department of Defense?

The Pirates featured an NFL-bound quarterback, a workhorse runner, and a fleet of swift-footed, sure-handed receivers. They were opposed by a formidable Heels' defensive front that has since been cherry-picked by NFL clubs.

Expect nothing of the sort on Saturday.

Nowadays, the Pirates are an ongoing identity crisis at quarterback, which has resulted in an anemic offense. It has gotten to the point in Greenville that a red zone visit is as rare as the appearance of Haley's Comet.

As for the Carolina Crush defense of John Bunting's first campaign? It has since been reduced to a Swiss cheese unit on which no opponent has had trouble scoring to date.

If anything is on the line in this meeting of the misfits, it could be the amount of faith each contingent has in its coach.

Bunting raised expectations his first season with an 8-5 finish that included a blowout of Florida Sate and a Peach Bowl victory over Auburn. The Heels have visited the winner's circle only thrice since taming the Tigers and that is beginning to taking its toll on a fan base that quickly is losing patience.

Though Pirates coach John Thompson's tenure spans only five games, fans now are demanding that wins accompany his back-slapping, hoorah approach. The fact that September didn't produce a competitive final score — let alone a victory — hasn't set well with Pirates boosters.

While it may seem that neither coach would be in jeopardy of losing his job in December, Saturday's loser almost certainly will find himself on a shorter leash and with a significantly depleted reservoir of support.

It's a scenario few could have predicted when the Pirates and Heels met in 2001.

Too much hype?

Is too much being made of Carolina's first visit to Greenville?

Not according to Pirates offensive tackle Brian Rimpf.

"I think it's that important," Rimpf said. "We feed off the fans a lot of times and they are really excited about the Carolina game. We are, too.

"It will be a great challenge for us. It would be great for us and players and our fans to have bragging rights in the state."

Connors returns

One of the more interesting storylines this Saturday has to be the return of Jeff Connors.

The former Pirates strength and conditioning coach became the target of purple venom when he bolted ECU following the 2000 season to join Bunting's new staff at Carolina.

During the 90s, Connors became a symbol of the Pirates' success and established an emphasis within the program to win the fourth quarter. Since his exodus, that is the period in which the Pirates have become most vulnerable.

Saturday also will be Connors' first opportunity for an up-close glance at the Murphy Center — East Carolina's strength and conditioning palace that he helped design.

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02/23/2007 01:53:23 AM


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