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Pirate Notebook No. 412
Monday, January 4, 2010

Denny O'Brien

Hartman connected for ECU

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

MEMPHIS — Part of the East Carolina bowl tradition under Skip Holtz has been the addition of players’ names to the backs of their jerseys. It has become a coveted reward that appropriately recognizes each Pirate for his hard work to reach the postseason.

That didn’t seem like a just reward for Ben Hartman Saturday night. Not in a game where the normally cool-as-ice kicker missed four field goals, including two with less than two minutes remaining and another in overtime.

Short. Off the upright. Wide right. Wide left.

That’s how many will remember East Carolina’s all-time leading scorer.

In retrospect, Hartman likely would have preferred that his name wasn’t emblazed above his football digits. Maybe there is part of him that wishes he had worn a different jersey, or had a recurrence of the hip injury that kept him out of much of the preseason while doctors wrestled with a diagnosis.

I know I would have. I would have opted for a month-long series of root canals over what Hartman had to endure in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

Without the Novocaine.

Because in a game where players sometimes selfishly seek the glory of those spotlight opportunities, anonymity would have been more desirable than what was instant notoriety for Hartman. Such is the unfair consequence of a position that gets most of its exposure from each failure as opposed to each success.

When Harman missed his fourth and final field goal against Arkansas Saturday, it set off an Internet frenzy that saw no boundaries. Every cyber destination from ECU fan message boards to popular social media outlets jumped on the anti-Ben bandwagon.

Keyboard snipers hid behind anonymous handles and mercilessly fired one-liners at ECU’s kicker. Unlike Hartman, they had the luxury of invisibility with zero accountability, which is exactly what certain areas of our virtual existence afford.

It’s a shame that so many joined that cyber assault.

How quickly they must have forgotten the six game winners Hartman coolly kicked during his career. How quickly they must have dismissed the fact that Hartman was the catalyst for some of the most memorable moments in ECU football history.

Like his kick that crushed North Carolina in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium as time expired. That delivered what many East Carolina fans don’t like to admit was one of the more special nights in stadium history.

And how he rescued the Pirates in Hawaii against Boise State. His kick as the final seconds ticked away was the perfect punctuation to a week that most of his teammates would agree was the most memorable of their lives.

Then there were those kicks that closed out Marshall, Central Florida, and Tulsa in 2008. Without those, East Carolina doesn’t win its first Conference USA championship and set the stage to do what no team in the league has ever done, which is to repeat as champs.

But I guess those watershed events should be tossed aside. I guess the proper protocol is to hide behind the security of our laptops and pour salt into the deep wounds of a young man who must feel as lonely as anyone who ever wore an ECU uniform.

Because that should make us feel better. Sadly, making someone else feel worse typically does.

What shouldn’t be lost in the aftermath of Saturday’s disappointment were the circumstances that brought Hartman to ECU. He came to the school as a walk-on, which means he paid his own way, which means his love and commitment for the university preceded his membership in the Pirates’ football fraternity.

There were no contingencies for Hartman’s devotion to ECU.

He wasn’t a coddled recruit who coaches showered with text messages of praise. He was just like any other student at ECU, save for his gift of kicking a pigskin accurately through a pair of uprights.

Which he did far more often than not.

And despite anything that occurred on Saturday, he will leave the school having made a greater historical impact on it than 95 percent of those who attended it.

So before you and your Facebook friends channel your disappointment to rake Hartman over the Internet coals, keep that in mind. As you prep another message board post that piles on his misfortunes, ask if you could conjure the courage to endure what Hartman has experienced the past two days.

Bottom line, there should be a modicum of decorum that fans must follow, and that shouldn’t be relaxed by the protection of a firewall or an IP address.

Sharing critical opinions in an online forum is one thing. Keelhauling someone over the World Wide Web is another.

Hartman’s recent treatment is reminiscent of a similar scenario that occurred at West Virginia not long ago. The Mountaineers’ kicker had the audacity to miss a field goal in a critical game, which led to a series of threats from fans.

Hopefully this is not the direction Pirate Nation is heading.

There is no denying that Hartman didn’t deliver in his final game at ECU. Just like several other players on the roster who missed assignments, threw interceptions, were flagged for penalties, and committed other mistakes that contributed to what arguably stands as the Pirates' most heartbreaking loss.

It’s just unfortunate that Hartman’s missed kicks are the ones fans will remember most. It’s even more troubling that some fans used it as a platform to verbally berate a guy who literally gave his right leg to East Carolina.

The more just reward for Hartman should be the recognition that he clearly ranks among the best clutch performers in East Carolina football history.

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01/04/2010 01:40 AM

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