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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
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
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
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
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
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
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.