ARTICLE OF THE DAY

We Are East Carolina
by Brian North
11/8/06

Much is being made about the movie "We Are Marshall." If you have lived under a rock and haven't heard, the movie starring Matthew McConaughey is about the rebuilding of the Marshall University football program after the tragic plane crash in 1970 that killed 75 people. East Carolina beat the Thundering Herd 17-14 on November 14th of that year in front of 8,711 fans. According to people who were there, it was an unremarkable game in a lack luster season. But what happened next would change all who were involved.

The Marshall team left the Greenville airport to return to West Virginia. At 7:37 p.m. as a cold rain pecked at the ground and a nasty fog rolled in, a chartered jet smashed into a scrabbly field about two miles west of Huntington's Tri-State Airport, some 30 seconds before it would have landed. Everyone aboard was killed instantly.

To this day, the crash retains the dubious distinction of being the biggest sports-related disaster in U. S. history. The victims included 37 players, 12 coaches and university staff members, 5 flight crew members and 21 townspeople. Those deaths left 70 minor children; 18 of those children lost both parents.

The movie chronicles what happened next. The University decided to rebuild its football program and after some tough times, the Thundering Herd became a modern day success story. It is truly emotional and inspiring.

East Carolina's football program will always be connected to the Herd, and the Pirates have gone through their own ups and downs through the years, although nothing close to what the Marshall family went through.

But East Carolina has rebuilt its once proud program over the last two seasons under Skip Holtz. Don't expect a movie to be made about the Pirates (who would play Skip? Beau Bridges?), but thier story has been inspiring to Pirate fans. After winning just three games in two years under John Thompson, ECU is on the verge of becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2001 (when, ironically, they lost to Marshall in the GMAC Bowl), and contending for the school's first conference championship.

The fact Holtz has built a winner so fast is amazing. The cupboard wasn't bare when he took the job, but he has added to that talent with two very good recruiting classes. Holtz also had a major psychological rebuilding job to do and it continues to this day. Skip doesn't want his players getting caught up in the hype and is preaching "one game seasons," and he is doing it for good reason. The Pirates have taken baby steps in dealing with success, and he doesn't want them to take two steps back if they start believing they can just step on the field and win without working hard. It's a coaches toughest task in leading a team; keeping the hunger that got them there while enjoying the satisfaction of accomplishing goals. The Tulsa game was a great example, ECU got too caught up in the enormity of the contest and laid an egg on the Dowdy-Ficklin turf, and Holtz is determined to not let that happen again this weekend with all the different distractions that could take place Saturday afternoon.

"We Are Marshall" should be a cinematic success when it is released in December. But East Carolina is becoming a success on the gridiron again, and Pirate fans are hoping that the product on the field will be worth watching again and again for years to come.
 
Brian North
bnorth@wcti12.com