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Woody's Ramblings
Tuesday, June 14, 2005

By Woody Peele

Fair-weather backing not a new trend at ECU


I read Denny O’Brien’s column on the need for support by East Carolina fans to fill Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on every occasion if they want the Pirates to be able to move up to a Bowl Championship Series conference.

It brought to mind what I had been told time and again by fans over the years while I wrote for Greenville’s The Daily Reflector.

There were a number of times that I chastised the Pirate fans for their lack of loyalty to the program.

Oh, sure, there were those who attended every game, rain or shine, no matter who the opponent. But they were generally in the minority.

Since the 1960's, I’ve watched attendance. For the most part, you could just about guarantee close to a sellout for the opening home game of the season, especially if it was the first game of the year.

But after that, the attendance numbers would begin to slip, students and non-students alike. It spiked back up for Homecoming, but after that it went down again.

And it didn’t seem to matter who was on the slate. We could be playing Richmond or Miami and the result would still be the same.

During the 1970's, when Sonny Randle’s and Pat Dye’s teams were whipping tail from one end of the schedule to the other, the cycle was repeated year after year.

I began asking why this was so.

The answer I got from fans during the lean years was that the Pirates were not winning. They didn’t want to spend their hard-earned money seeing a team that was losing more than it was winning.

There were the up years, too, when the Pirates knocked off just about everyone they played, more or less dominating the Southern Conference before they left the league for what they hoped would be greener pastures.

The excuse then became, “We don’t want to come out and see East Carolina play (fill in the blank with Appalachian State, Richmond or William and Mary). We want to see BIG NAME teams.”

On cue, East Carolina began to schedule some of those big name teams, like Miami.

Still, the crowds did not fill up the stadium, which then held only some 30,000.

The excuse then came down to, “We want to see North Carolina or N.C. State, or Duke or Wake Forest in here.”

Sure enough, when the Tar Heels or Wolfpack made those couple of trips down to Greenville, there was a crowd. Even when the fans had to troop to Raleigh or Chapel Hill or Charlotte, they made their way west for the games. Wake and Duke have drawn a lesser amount.

But the games that mean the most now, the Southern Misses, the Houstons, the Tulanes and so on, didn’t come near drawing the same kinds of crowds.

When the winning stopped a couple of years ago, the sunshine fans deserted once again.

Yes, East Carolina does have some great fans. I’ve seen it over the years. There is that die-hard group that would come if the Pirates were 0-10 and playing the Sisters of the Poor. Every school has that support.

But it’s the rest of the fans, those who say they come when the Pirates are winning, those who come when they’re playing the top teams in the country, and those who only show up for an ACC opponent (read UNC-CH or NCSU), who need to be there every week.

They need to be showing that they love the Pirates, win or lose, regardless of the opponent. Only then will East Carolina be able to generate the kind of of sustained support that will be irresistible to a BCS league looking to expand.


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02/23/2007 02:43:56 PM

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