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Pirate Notebook No. 242
Friday, May 27, 2005

By Denny O'Brien

Garrard worthy of first-ballot induction


I sometimes overhear my older colleagues discussing former East Carolina football greats with whom I am vaguely familiar through black-and-white photos and statistics in the media guide.

Their names emerge most often in press box debates over whose legacies are most deserving of enshrinement in the Pirates' athletics Hall of Fame. Because I know these purple-to-the-core warriors primarily as names and numbers, my contributions in those conversations are minimal.

In fact, my knee-jerk reaction in such situations is to reach deep into my archive of East Carolina football memories and propose a few names whose storied careers will no doubt be represented one day in the Hall.

Junior Smith, Troy Smith, and Marcus Crandell are a trio of names that immediately come to mind. They are but a small sample of men whose accomplishments in purple and gold have made a permanent deposit in my memory bank of Pirate football.

With Purple Heaven's gates now open for the annual discussion about upcoming inductions, I can't help but fast forward to the 2011 class and question if ECU's flagship player from its most successful era will be rightfully honored with a first-ballot enshrinement.

Based solely on how ECU has treated some of its most decorated alums, I'm guessing he won't. David Garrard may be forced to wait until his physique has completed its metamorphosis from the well-chiseled frame he now sports to the one often carried by athletes whose careers have vanished into the twilight.

Former quarterback Jeff Blake was an exception to that unwritten rule (he has been elected to the Hall, but not yet installed), and rightfully so considering the key role he played in escorting East Carolina from relative obscurity into the spotlight of major college sports. Though Blake's career essentially was compressed into that magical 1991 season, he made more of an impact in one year than most make in a career.

But where Blake penciled the Pirates onto the college football map, Garrard applied the permanent ink. A starter for nearly four years, he not only upheld the tradition of outstanding East Carolina quarterbacks, he set the new standard by which future successors would be measured.

Garrard was one of those rare talents whose skills were spread evenly between his rocket right arm and powerful legs. In the era of the mobile quarterback, he was one of few who was adept enough with both to beat good opponents using only one dimension.

That memorable 1999 comeback victory over No. 9 Miami showcased the precision of a right arm strong enough to carry the burden of an entire region that was barely a week removed from this state's biggest natural disaster. Against West Virginia and N.C. State that same year, it was his tree trunk-sized legs that towed the Pirate ship to victory.

There are other examples throughout his career that reinforce this point: No quarterback — make that no player — engineered more victories over high-profile opponents, or experienced more pressure as a result.

Just as compelling as the accomplishments he made on the field is the difficult path the "Beer Truck" traveled. There couldn't be a better personification of that us-against-the-world mantra that has become East Carolina's motivational theme.

Though a high school star under center, Garrard was told by nearly every Division I program that his future was at tight end. And when suitors visited his home, they were greeted by the siblings who raised him after his mother lost her bout with cancer.

To understate his career, Garrard had it all. He had the victories and records, gave East Carolina the type of exposure over an extended period that it had never experienced, and fully embodied the essence of what it meant to wear the purple headgear.

Yet for reasons still unexplained, Garrard's No. 9 can still be spotted each fall Saturday on the back of a current Pirate who couldn't possibly live up to the legacy that was created from 1998-2001. And since appealing for a jersey retirement likely is a wasted effort — ECU doesn't visibly honor former players — I'll settle for a first-ballot election to the Hall of Fame.

None of this is meant as a slight to the many figures whose contributions to ECU athletics are deserving of enshrinement in the school's Hall. Many former student-athletes, coaches, administrators, and influential journalists have played a key role in those uphill battles in which East Carolina emerged victorious despite the longest of odds.

Those battles have occurred on the field, in board rooms, in the legislature, and within the media, and each is equally significant to ECU's ascension from an ambitious lower-level program to the major Division I ranks.

But when it boils down to the question of who shattered the most records, ushered ECU into more households and gave it the most focus in water cooler conversations, for me the answer couldn't be more clear. That's why anything less than a first-ballot induction for Garrard would bring into question the Hall's selection process.

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02/23/2007 02:00:00 AM

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