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Reflections on being a Pirate

Mind Games
Friday, October 4, 2002
By Ron Cherubini
Staff Feature Writer


Mind Games: Looking back for a little perspective


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 Pirates.

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 Baker years.

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 know.

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 steps…”

The ECU program, whether we like it or not, is still in its infancy.

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 perspective.

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02/23/2007 02:05:47 PM

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