Now and then, for some unknown reason, an ECU football memory from my undergraduate days will just pop into my head. When it happens, the memory is so strong, so palpable, that I almost feel the emotions from that moment, that time back in Greenville.
Well, one just hit me and, frankly, I am exhausted from it. Might have to take the rest of the day off.
If ever there was a game where ECU ran the gamut from defeated, to jubilant, to utterly stunned, to just plain exhausted, it might well be the 1986 game against West Virginia.
I remember that game – thanks to today’s time machine ride, like it was yesterday.
I was sitting on the student side of the stadium down on the scoreboard end. It was an early season game and so it was still warm out. It was a day game and I was sitting with a bunch of my friends from the rugby team and a few from my dorm, two of which were huge body builder types – you know the ones, the guys who had a key for Golds Gym to slip in at 2 or 3 a.m. when they just had to have a workout. Good guys, both. More on that later.
ECU was in that post-1983 stretch where the schedule was a whos-who of college powerhouses (anybody, anywhere, any time) and Coach Art Baker was trying to cobble together a team that could hang with the big boys beyond the intermission – something ECU was always pretty good at). There was nothing overly spectacular about ECU’s team that year and frankly, as it would turn out, not much going for WVU either – I think they finished like 4-7 that year. But to ECU- which finished 3-8 that year – WVU was every bit a big boy despite the fact that the 1986 season would go down in history as Niehlen’s worst at WVU’s helm.
If I recall correctly, ECU was coming off a blowout loss at N.C. State and WVU was 1-0 after beating some Division IAA team or something like that.Despite the blah-ness of the two teams, that day was electric. The stadium was packed and for some reason, everyone had made it into the game for kickoff.
It was a very close game and as the 4th quarter wound down, the Pirates found themselves with a final possession, trailing the Mountaineers, 17-14. At that time, ECU had two QBs, I think, with Travis Hunter, a dominating option guy, and freshman Charlie Libretto, known more for his passing prowess.
I remember talking to my friends trying to decide if we would head back to the tailgate fields and get our post-game, pick-me-up started early and recall sensing that not a person in the stadium expected the Pirates to make a comeback. But then, Libretto started the team down the field, methodically…one play leading to another. I remember a few other details…like crowds of people bunching up in the exits and sort of hanging there to watch….while others filed back into the stadium seats.
I remember one of my body builder friends, his name Ken, who never was overly emotional, never standing or cheering, just kind of watching with the same, “we suck, but I hope we win” look on his face that he usually displayed at ECU games. I remember long chains of stacked plastic cups snaking through the crowd, growing in lengths as they worked themselves hand to hand from top to bottom, left to right of the student sections.
As Libretto marched the Pirates down the field, you could sense the change in attitude in the crowd…as if the collective mind could be heard saying, “Holy cow…we’re going to win this one.” Even Kenny was showing emotion, having slid to the edge of his concrete seat.
And, with the 1:00 mark approaching (I think…it may have been even less), the Pirates crashed over. Remarkably, I can’t even remember who scored…whether a run or pass…but ECU scored. And I remember the crowd lost it – in good and in bad ways. I remember seeing a large block of middle fingers going up at the Moutaineer mascot just below my section, near the entrance to the visitor lockerrooms. I also remember a hailstorm of cups, hats, foam fingers, everything anyone was holding flying into the air. People were literally hugging each other. Even the calm alumni section was rocking below the pressbox. It was grand. Kenny even stood up, I think.
It was as if every bottled up emotion came out at once. It was truly an exhilerating moment.
There had to be less than a minute left.
I remember WVU got the ball and our defense was holding strong…the Moutaineers were not moving well and time was running down quickly.Then it happened.
And because of what transpired in the final, oh, 15 seconds of the game…I remember things I shouldn’t. Like unremarkable WVU quarterback Mike Timko’s name. I don’t recall if it was a 3rd or 4th down, but I do remember that it was as desperate moment for the Mountaineers when Timko heaved a bomb down the pressbox sideline. The pass, which in fairness was well thrown, was into double coverage – a corner right on the WVU receiver and a Safety over to help and somehow, that damn WVU receiver pulled it in around the 10 yard line.
Silence…shock…utter disbelief hushed the raucous crowd.
A play later…Timko completes a 10-yarder to a well-covered and diving receiver named Harvey (something, funny what you remember) and the game is over…WVU 24, ECU 21.
Most of the people in the stadium simply sat down in silence.
I remember looking at Kenny…for the first time I saw emotion in his face…utter disbelief.
The stadium was absolutely silent for what seemed like a day, but was only a second or two as the Moutaineers musket rocked the stadium. Loudest gunshot I have heard.
I was exhausted…and that is one time, I can say quite honestly that as a fan, I, too, left everything I had out there in Dowdy-Ficklen.
Oh well…had to write it down…may go get a breathing treatment now.
Would absolutely LOVE TO HEAR any of your Dowdy-Ficklen moments…good, bad, or in the middle.
the one that sticks with me is from the dream season… I was living in Tennessee at the time and was constantly talking up the Pirates with my new hillbilly friends who had never heard of them before.. i talked one of them into riding over with me to see the ECU – Pitt game. He was from Kingsport, TN and had never been anywhere outside of that area. As we’re driving in on the newly opened stretch of 264 between Farmville and Greenville, he yells out, “Look ‘ere!!!” (which is hillbilly for “Look there!”) I almost lost control of the car because of being so startled. Once I regained composure and control of the car, I asked him what was it. He said, “you can see damn near 5 miles up ‘ere!” He was amazed at how flat it was around here… but on to the game, ECU did their patented come from behind late deal and had scored late in the 4th quarter on a Blake keeper, then he takes in the 2 point conversion to take the lead 24-23. As you say, funny how you remember things, Alex Van Pelt was the Pitt QB and had a chance to win but threw a completion down the middle of the field with no timeouts and it was over. so a much better memory for me. the crowd was absolutely electric that day. I took my friend with several of my homeys downtown after the game… Rafters, the Sportspad, etc…. memories are quite clouded after that, although I do remember my TN friend saying, “you flat-landers take your drinking serious!”.. I still occasionally talk to him and he always mentions his trip to Greenville in 91.
Thanks Chris…awesome story…love details, details, details.
I, too, have many partial memories of hours spent at Spords Pad and the connected bar (forget its name) with the alley entrance…”Sharky’s” maybe??
That Pitt game was awesome. One silly item that stuck out to me was that someone had hung a bright yellow banner on the pressbox side on the Minges endzone end (where we scored the game winner) and the sign said, plainly, “Puck Fitt.” Oh man…definitely going to take the rest of the day now.
Thanks for sharing mate.