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Tuesday, January 6, 2009
By Ron Cherubini
Staff Feature Writer

Eye on 2009… I can’t wait already

By Ron Cherubini
All rights reserved.

For a fourth consecutive season, the East Carolina football program bettered its win total from the previous season — 5 wins, 7 wins, 8 wins, and now 9 wins.

That's an indicator that should not be taken lightly by those who follow the Pirates. When you play a schedule like the Pirates do, wins are a hard-earned commodity. The difference between 8 and 9 wins is tantamount to the difference between a 4.24 forty and a 4.3.

Having defeated the ACC champion (Virginia Tech), the Big East football flagship (West Virginia), and having shut down the nation’s most prolific offense (Tulsa) to win the Conference USA Championship seems to me to be a pretty lofty set of accomplishments.

Still, when in ECU history has so much felt like so little?

Losing in the Liberty Bowl, without a doubt, is a bitter pill to swallow, particularly given the manner in which the Pirates lost the game. Perhaps, a win in Memphis would have served as an exclamation point for fans to legitimize the Pirates’ season as one for the ages.

But, from my perspective, the season still will go down as one for the ages.

Now be honest — even before the unprecedented number of season-ending injuries to key players — did anyone really expect this team to be BCS busters? Anyone… anyone… Bueller? Suffice to say, the biggest goal was to get to and win the C-USA championship — a goal achieved in glorious fashion by the Pirates.

But then, we all experienced those first three weeks. Those damn first three weeks of the season. And everything changed. For many amongst us, I presume it would have been better not to have had that taste of big time football. That wonderful, succulent bite of elite (really elite) football that so few programs really get to taste. They haven’t had a real bite of it over in Raleigh or Chapel Hill in a long, long time, I can tell you that much.

The mass media exposure, being mentioned in the same conversations that include Southern Cal, Florida, Texas and the like, the water cooler conversations outside of Greenville including talk of the East Carolina Pirates. Hell, the press from ESPN to Reuters to the Timbuktu Daily News were suddenly referring to the Pirates as East Carolina, not Eastern Carolina — think about what that means in terms of legitimizing the program.

There is an old expression about keeping the boys on the farm once they have seen Paris... or something like that... and I know that for many in the Pirate Nation, getting that taste may be more frustrating than encouraging. You know, there are some things that maybe you just don’t want to get a taste off — ask Adam about that apple.

Those first three weeks… ugh. The spotlight was so bright and so warm that, in comparison, nine wins, a conference title and a near miss at the Liberty Bowl really do seem kind of, well, paltry.

But from a program perspective, the experiences this year should have an unprecedented impact in every measurable area. Though this team fell out of the spotlight, its accomplishments indeed have been a large step toward legitimizing the program and paving a path forward that won’t require a perfect season to get similar attention.

ECU is now — once again I guess some could argue — a name brand program nationally in football. If the coaches are to be believed, and there is no reason not to believe them, the program is gaining access to recruits that wouldn’t have even bothered to a return a call before.

There is a very strong chance the Pirates will be on the Top 25 radar going into the 2009 campaign. With the schedules being played and the television interest, there is no reason to believe that Dowdy-Ficklen won’t once again eclipse its record attendance mark and season ticket sales.

And, oh yeah, the returning talent from a nine-win team which navigated a brutal schedule is by far the most the Pirates have seen in a very, very long time.

On the coaching front, any doubts about this staff and its abilities should have been erased this season. With the injuries to starters and key personnel, there is a strong case to be made that this team had no business even having a winning record, let winning the C-USA title. How effective would any business be if it lost 50% of its most effective performers? Not very. Yet, this staff brought us the very championship we have all so desperately wanted.

Of course, all of us are left to wonder what this season could have been. Along that line of thinking, there are a lot of ifs to ponder. What if we had not lost so many key players so early in the season? What if we had held on and won the State game? What if we had a caught a break here or there —what would the season have been like?

I am more excited about ECU football than I have ever been and, because of that early season taste of what real, elite football is like, my aspirations are much higher and my expectations more based in reality than ever before.

I also have much greater respect for the Floridas, Southern Cals and Oklahomas of college football, because at that level, there is no room for even minor mistakes, no forgiveness for a single loss, not a moment where even the most insignificant of actions by a single player aren’t scrutinized and analyzed ad nauseam in front of the college football world.

Yes, it surely was satisfying to get a tangible taste of that world and for it. The East Carolina football program is much healthier and perhaps has achieved a new and unparalleled height in its history.

Send an e-mail to Ron Cherubini.

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01/06/2009 02:45:11 AM


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