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'Painting 'em Purple'

From the Booth
Monday, October 7, 2002
By Jeff Charles
Voice of the Pirates

Road games: Some flights home happier than others


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Willie Nelson said it best: “We’re on the road again.”

Have you ever wondered how over one hundred people and football equipment for nearly seventy players makes it’s way from Greenville, North Carolina, to ECU’s road games? Here’s an inside look at a typical travel weekend.

First of all, thank you Greenville-Pitt County Airport for extending the runway a few years ago so the football charter plane can both take off and land in the Emerald City.

We used to go to Kinston and that added thirty-five minutes to the trip both going out and returning home. It’s been a huge benefit to be able to land after a road trip less than ten minutes from the campus.

Remember the old argument about East Carolina not being attractive for conference membership because other teams couldn’t get here? Guess what? This airport is closer to this stadium than any place I’ve ever been, with the possible exception of Louisville. It’s an ideal situation now.

So here’s what happens:

The team charter typically leaves sometime late Friday afternoon. ECU’s Associate Athletics Director, Nick Floyd, is in charge of the travel party.

Passengers on the charter include, of course, the football players (usually around sixty-six of them), the coaching staff, the sports medicine crew, athletic administration members, the radio network, media relations and television show personnel, phone communications people (for the coaches headsets), cheerleaders and perhaps equipment staff.

If the flight is a long one, for instance to Houston, all the football equipment goes on the plane. If it’s a one-day drive the equipment guys load the U-Haul and drive to the stadium. Last week the guys drove to Morgantown.

When everyone boards the plane in Greenville and buckles up into their assigned seat, there’s a plastic bag of food awaiting. This delicious container includes two sandwiches of some sort of cold meat layered between a bun that hopefully doesn’t have the texture of a cement block. You’ll also find other goodies like potato chips, maybe a candy bar or a cookie, and either a banana or an apple.

There’s always plenty of water, Gatorade and soft drinks on board. You can even grab one when you’re getting on the plane out of the big ice bucket on the tarmac.

Most of the players in their warm-ups have their headsets on and it’s usually a fun group when heading out. Coming back the fun is determined by the outcome of the game.

The flights, thank goodness, are usually smooth and last anywhere from one to two hours. There was that trip to Washington in 1993 when the plane had to stop halfway in Wichita and refuel.

The routine is the same getting on and off the plane. Three buses carry the team directly on to the tarmac and pull up right beside the plane. The players and coaches man bus one and bus two, everyone else is on bus three.

You have police escorts on the road and the entertaining ones are the motorcycle cops who resemble Evil Knievel in his prime. Those guys in Memphis are legendary and we’ve gotten to know some of them over the years, including the guy who crashed a few years ago.

When you get to the hotel there’s a big table in the lobby with everyone’s key on it. Most everyone has a roommate (Carlester Crumpler is mine.) and the parade of over one hundred people starts to their rooms.

The players on Friday nights have a movie. Often times you’ll see large individuals with pillows headed to a banquet room for the video — and no chick flicks are on the marquee. Bill Lewis used to say, “We’re watching one of those shoot’em up movies.”

After the presentation, more food is on the tables outside the “movie theatre” and meetings have been held before and after the movie. Lights are out at eleven and depending on tomorrow’s game time the pre-game breakfast or lunch is five hours before kickoff.

The team arrives at the stadium two hours before kickoff. When they walk into the locker room, each player’s equipment is hanging neatly in place. That’s the work of those equipment guys who’ve driven in the night before to set up the locker room. A big, big job.

Finally, it’s game time and — hopefully — three hours later, a Pirate victory and a happy plane trip home.

The welcoming committees at the airport have been great over the years following big wins on the road. As many as one to two thousand fans have been at the airport some times. If you’ve been there you’ve seen the players smiles. It means a lot to them. It also means it’s been a day that “Uou could Paint it Purple.”

Happy Trails.

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02/23/2007 10:24:06 AM

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