Reflections on being a
Friday, October 4, 2002
By Ron Cherubini
You know… this season… no… well… I’m just going to say it:
Man, it can be tough to be a Pirate, this much is true.
But, whenever I doubt the direction of the program, I take a
ride in my own Pirate Time Machine and it really puts things in perspective.
It gives me hope… it rekindles my spirits, and again, ‘I Believe’ in these
I stumbled onto ECU’s campus in 1984 for the first time. I
was there with friends who had graduated before me and made the commitment –
the tough commitment – to become Pirates.
I saw a Kinks concert and fell in love with the school.
Coupled with a desire to be on a campus that so loved their football program
that an 8-3 club was still the buzz.
So, I bypassed NROTC at Duke and re-thought my plans to go
to N.C. State and made a decision to make the uphill climb.
Having grown up in a football family, I don’t think I could
have handled what lay ahead had there not been something deeper at work.
From 1985 through my belated graduation in 1990, my Pirates compiled a
whopping 19-36 record with no bowl appearances. I endured the chants of “Up
the middle, Up the middle, Incomplete… Punt” that so identified the Art
I remember a shopping cart full of moral victories: The
17-10 loss at Penn State where we had four cracks at the endzone in the
final minute of play. I remember the Pirate team that intercepted Vinnie
Testaverde five times – five times – and nearly pulled the upset.
I remember the high point of one season when at half-time of
a Florida State game, a guy jumped the fence beneath the scoreboard and
streaked across the field and jumped the fence into the waiting arms of
security as the crowd shouted, “Sign him up, he’s faster than anything we
have on the field!”
I remember Charlie Libretto leading us to the promised land
at home against West Virginia with just two minutes remaining and then the
Mountaineers' Major Harris heaving a desperation pass into the endzone from
a mile away and the WVU receiver pulling the ball down down between two
Pirates to steal the victory. The gesture for the Musket man was one we all
I remember the ads in the paper looking for field goal
kickers. These things I remember well.
But I also remember how much the players desperately wanted
to show the fans that they were not a bad team. I remember long talks with
K.K. Walker and Ellis Dillahunt in the much sought after Self-Paced
Philosophy class… they were really embarrassed about the record.
I remember hanging out with Robert Washington a few times
and the conversation rarely left the realm of football. I remember the team
rolling into the Elbo and people laughing and seeing the look on the
players’ faces. I remember teams that, if games were only two quarters long,
would have been national championship contenders.
It was bad. Even though the schedule brought top teams to
Dowdy-Ficklen, losing was epidemic. So bad, that when we would all gather in
the dorm to listen to the game on the radio, everyone would cringe when the
announcer would say, ‘So and so is back to pass for ECU…” because we all
knew that it would either be an interception or an incompletion.
And the other North Carolina schools… well, they simply
ignored us. There was no banter between the fans because there was no case
that could be made on our side.
Yet all along, you could sense that there was a deeper river
running below the surface of Dowdy-Ficklen. Perhaps it was the echoes of Leo
Jenkins so ingrained in the very fibers of the campus that, though seemingly
silenced in defeat, truly resonated in the form of galvanizing the fan base
– though it was much smaller then.
I know that it was during my time at ECU that I learned to
appreciate the little things in football. Like Dillahunt’s pulverizing hit
in the N.C. State game in 1987. Or watching Walter Wilson make defensive
backs look like fools when he would run a route. Or watching Travis Hunter
run the option… boy could he run that play. If the teams in the mid-to-late
‘80s could be judged on first halves alone, they would have been as good as
any team in the country.
We all knew then that ECU was going to will itself to
national prominence in football. The truth – that the school got little of
the UNC system pie each year, that the alumni base was very young and not
earning big wages yet, that the ACC shadow was much bigger than we all gave
it credit for, and that the party school image was not a misnomer – would
not stand in the way of the rise of the program.
And our football has risen to national recognition since.
I am not endorsing any particular coaches or administrators
nor am I saying that I have any unique understanding and appreciation for
the program because of my time at ECU. All I am saying is that this program
is now so far removed from the mid-1980s that I sometimes have to look back
to properly focus forward when it comes to ECU football. I am unrealistic in
my goals for the football team, but I like to set the bar at it’s highest.
But, my mind tells me to appreciate the reality of where we
are as a program.
Like in the movie “Contact” when the father says, “Baby
The ECU program, whether we like it or not, is still in its
As much as I don’t want to have a losing season this year,
if that turns out to be the case, I know that the talent in the program, as
one former star from the 1970s told me recently, “…is so good that I (he)
would sit the bench if I were playing today.”
These boys will be good, real good, by the time they
graduate as long as they sell out to the program.
To be a Pirate meant to go against the grain, to move
forward your own way despite the rest of the crowd, to adapt and overcome
against infinite, every-growing obstacles, and to believe that you CAN do
what everyone else says you can’t.
So when I’m feeling a little confused about my football
identity, I travel back and recall the mid-80s. Not so much to remember how
unsuccessful we were as a team, but more the opposite. To recall a group of
true Pirates – both players and fans alike – who in the face of consistent
defeat, always showed up to fight the good fight, paving the way for a
program that we all so heavily scrutinize today.
I just got an IM from a friend of mine in Hawaii – another
Pirate – in which he asks, “…What the hell is going on? I thought we would
win 10 games this season with that schedule…”
“Me, too,” I think aloud.
To EXPECT it now… hmmmmmm? I have, indeed, traveled a long
way with my Pirate brethren in a very short time.
Perhaps, things are not as bad as I thought… when viewed in
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02/23/2007 02:05:47 PM