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Bob Holliday

History of UNC-ECU includes cigars, spies, videotape

Posted September 26, 2013

Ed Emory was coach of ECU when rumors swirled of spying in the cross-state rivalry.

This series between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and East Carolina University began against the backdrop of the battle over the ECU Medical School. Then-Chancellor Leo Jenkins wanted to train doctors in Greenville, and he took his campaign to the North Carolina General Assembly. In October of 1973, the ECU football team, which counted Jenkins as its No. 1 fan, played in Chapel Hill, on the one campus which already had a medical school supported by the state.

North Carolina had beaten the Pirates, 42-19, in the first meeting between the schools in 1972, but that was one of the three best teams in Tar Heel football history, and ECU returned most of its key players the following year. While one athletic contest should never influence an important decision regarding higher education, clearly, another UNC blowout win was not going to help Jenkins persuade legislators that ECU deserved a four-year medical school.

East Carolina’s defense in that era was known as “The Wild Dogs.” For two years, the Wild Dogs, led by Danny Kepley, had shut down every opponent except North Carolina State and UNC. And for the first three quarters that late October day in Kenan Stadium, ECU held the Tar Heels to a single touchdown.

Somehow, UNC rallied to win 28-27, still the largest fourth quarter comeback in the 100-plus year history of Tar Heel football. But East Carolina had made its point.

“The one thing we wanted was for these people to respect us – something they’ve never done,” emotional sportscaster Sonny Randle said after the game, adding, “If there’s one person here today who doesn’t respect us, he needs to see a psychiatrist.”

UNC System President William Friday, who had been concerned the state could not afford to fund two medical schools, changed his position in late 1974, and the General Assembly approved the funds.

Dye’n for a Cigar

Then in 1975, the Pirates returned to conquer. Pat Dye had become the coach, and though he described his undersized Pirates as a bunch of “skinny-legged kids,” his wishbone offense gave ECU a weapon that was difficult to negate (See Paul Johnson-Georgia Tech).

Despite 209 yards rushing from UNC’s Mike Voight, East Carolina rolled, 38-17.

I was among a dozen or so reporters who gathered around Dye in the corner of one end zone at Kenan Stadium. First, the coach dedicated the win to Clarence Stasavich, ECU’s successful coach of the 1960s, who had died the day before.

Then he reached into his pocket.

“I was so sure we were gonna beat North Carolina today,” Dye said, “that I brought cigars. And I want all of you to have one.”

True story.

Pat Dye handed out victory cigars after ECU’s first (and to this point only) win in Chapel Hill.

Sleeping giant awakened

A year later, I sat down with Jenkins, who again stressed his belief that excellence in one phase of the university leads to success in other phases. Of football, the ECU chancellor said, “The schools in North Carolina know now the sleeping giant is awakened. And they’re going to have a hard time with us from now on.”

During the Dye years, that was certainly true. The Tar Heels won in 1976 on a late 49-yard field goal by Jeff Arnold, 12-10. Some Pirate players accused the Tar Heels of using a special ball for that kick. That set the stage for two more memorable games in Chapel Hill.

1978 marked the beginning of the Dick Crum era at UNC, and it produced without question the shortest quote I can remember in my years covering football. Question: “What concerns you about East Carolina, coach?” Answer: “Their speed.” That’s it. That’s all he said.

Crum remains the winningest coach in UNC football history, but interviewing him was always a challenge. He knew football, though, and East Carolina’s speed did nearly ruin his debut. The Tar Heels prevailed just 14-10.

The Pirates came even closer in 1979. Only a Jeff Hayes field goal in the closing seconds kept East Carolina from posting a win. The game ended in a 24-24 tie.

That was a North Carolina team with Lawrence Taylor, Buddy Curry, Donnell Thompson (all future NFL stars) and Amos Lawrence, the school’s all-time leading rusher. For a team led by Leander Green to nearly take down a team led by LT, maybe says something about the power of purpose.

That North Carolina team, by the way, went on to beat Michigan in the Gator Bowl.

They fired the spies at halftime

The late Ed Emory took over as coach at ECU for the 1980 season. Emory used to tell me, “Down east, we’ve got the magic of believing.”

We saw that in ECU’s remarkable 1983 season, when the Pirates went 8-3 and nearly ruined Miami’s national championship run. Emory went 0-2 against UNC, but the rivalry still produced some drama – off the field.

In the week leading up to the Pirate-Tar Heel season opener in 1981, a couple of strangers were spotted in the UNC Law School Library, which overlooks the football practice field. Asked for ID, the pair fled the building and drove off. The license plate was traced to an eastern North Carolina dealership known to provide courtesy cars for ECU coaches. Folks in Chapel Hill accused ECU of spying.

If there was football espionage, Emory never acknowledged it. And it certainly didn’t help the Pirates that day. North Carolina scored touchdowns by the truckload in the game’s first 25 minutes. At intermission, one down east reporter went around telling friends, “Did you hear, they fired the spies at halftime!”

Kelvin Bryant scored six touchdowns as the Tar Heels won 56-0.

I have videotape

The series took a 20-year hiatus, returning in part because of, shall we say, “encouragement” from the General Assembly. I’ve just finished watching WRAL’s account of the great reunion in 2001, Steve Logan’s only crack at the Tar Heels.

The videotape shows the Pirates could easily have prevailed in 2001. David Garrard led ECU to a 10-0 lead that might have become 17-0, but for a batted ball interception. Carolina scored a touchdown on a pass that went through a defender’s hands and into the grasp of falling-down receiver Zach Hilton. The Pirates’ Art Brown returned a kickoff to the Tar Heel goal line, only to have the ball knocked away at the last instant.

Final score: 24-21 UNC.

ECU did win in 2007 during the Tar Heels’ second trip to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Patrick Pinkney, whose father Reggie was hit with a controversial pass interference call during the Pirates’ emotional loss in 1973, quarterbacked the Pirate victory, with help from future NFL star Chris Johnson. Coach Skip Holtz, whose father Lou went 4-0 against ECU while at NC State, picked up the Pirates’ second win in this brief but storied series.

North Carolina has won the last four games by an average of 18 points, but that will have no bearing on Saturday’s contest, except perhaps to give even more motivation to ECU. Pirate coach Ruffin McNeill is a veteran of the ECU wars in Chapel Hill, having played in the close loss in 1978 and the bitter tie of 1979. Even though almost 30 years have passed since ECU’s only win in Kenan, the Pirates’ strong showing against Virginia Tech serves notice this week that they have a chance. Maybe a good chance.

17 Comments

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  • TSKMFs Sep 26, 3:17 p.m.

    Recent history includes blunts, cars, transcripts....

  • 4tarheels Sep 26, 3:19 p.m.

    Good stories.

  • me2you Sep 26, 3:30 p.m.

    It's sad we haven't beaten them more. Go Pirates!!!

  • LovemyPirates Sep 26, 3:52 p.m.

    The Pat Dye years brought some good wins. It would be great to have another one against UNC-CH.

  • 4tarheels Sep 26, 4:11 p.m.

    It's sad we haven't beaten them more. Go Pirates!!!

    — Posted by me2you

    Pirates have excellent chance this year. ECU is better than last year, and UNC is down. I hope the heels win but I'm sensing a pirate upset in the winds.

  • Willie_11 Sep 26, 4:25 p.m.

    Recent history includes blunts, cars, transcripts....

    — Posted by TSKMFs

    I actually LOL'd on that one. Go Pirates!

  • paintcan Sep 26, 4:51 p.m.

    ...but I need to point out one error. President Bill Friday did not come to terms in 1974 with ECU having its Medical School. Some say in recent years he publicly said Brody School of Medicine was a good thing. Not sure the year as I missed it.

  • nctrooper27560 Sep 26, 5:31 p.m.

    Ball spotted near the goaline of the Tar Heels where it is a first downnnnnnnnnn...Piratesssssss Arghhhhhhhhh

  • YouGotThatRight Sep 26, 8:39 p.m.

    Seeing how UNC generally will not come to Greenville, NC for this game, here's what all pirate fans should do. Gas up your car in your town before you leave. Don't eat out in Chapel Hill. Buy all of your supplies at home before you leave. Drive back home immediately after the game and don't give Chapel Hill any of your extra money. Don't reward a school that's greedy with money. Greenville, NC restaurants, hotels and WalMarts suffer from UNC's unwillingness to play in Greenville, NC.

  • TSKMFs Sep 26, 9:30 p.m.

    Seeing how UNC generally will not come to Greenville, NC for this game, here's what all pirate... View More

    — Posted by YouGotThatRight

    Yep. '13, '12, '10, '09 in chapped hole....'11 in Greenvile. (4 out of last 5)

More...

 

 

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Scoreboard
Local
Final
UNC 66
BUT 74
Final
ECU 73
HAW 75
Final
DUKE 93
FUR 54
Final
CHA 97
POR 105
Final
NCSU 84
RICH 72
Final
FLA 1
CAR 0
 
Final
PHI 91
BRK 99
Final
ORL 96
GSW 111
Final
CHA 97
POR 105
Final
CLE 113
WAS 87
Final
DET 98
LAC 104
Final
DAL 109
NYK 102
 
Final
ATL 115
TOR 126
 
Final
MIN 86
MIL 103
 
Final
HOU 102
SAC 89
 
Final
OKC 97
UTA 82
 
Final
SAN 106
IND 100
 
Final
PHO 120
DEN 112
 
2nd
LAL 49
MEM 44
 
Final
UNC 66
BUT 74
Final
FRES 64
MAR 68
Final
CHAT 61
RMU 46
Final
EMICH 68
ROCH 35
 
Final
MRGST 51
LIB 50
 
Final
HAMP 60
AMER 64
 
Final
BEL 78
DEN 57
Final
UMASS 79
NE 54
Final
JMU 79
SHU 72
 
Final
KNST 84
SAMF 71
 
Final
ECU 73
HAW 75
Final
CHAM 60
MIZZ 74
Final
CCAR 61
LAMON 48
Final
OKLA 75
UCLA 65
Final
ELON 65
UNF 72
 
Final
UWMIL 66
ORU 69
Final
WCU 66
CHIST 61
Final
DUKE 93
FUR 54
Final
BYU 85
PURD 87
Final
EVAN 79
USF 72
Final
COL 71
GTDNS 75
 
Final
VERM 73
BRY 47
 
Final
OSU 91
CAMP 64
Final
LOU 45
CLST 33
Final
UCF 69
DAVID 95
Final
IONA 126
DELST 76
 
Final
OU 78
UGST 83
Final
TOWS 97
GOUCHER 43
 
Final
ND 81
GRAM 54
 
Final
YALE 82
LAF 60
 
Final
GWU 91
LONG 66
 
Final
VT 78
UMO 63
 
Final
WAKE 83
MNTER 49
 
Final
NAVY 67
PSUHARRIS 42
 
Final
NCSU 84
RICH 72
Final
MINN 61
STJ 70
 
Final
JVU 69
TRINBAPT 57
 
Final
YOUNG 66
UMKC 63
 
Final
UAB 43
WISC 72
Final
CORN 67
CAN 60
 
Final
WVU 103
VMI 72
Final
DEP 74
LEH 86
 
Final
UNT 67
MVSU 52
 
Final
MARS 68
MORE 77
 
Final
TCU 74
RAD 50
 
Final
SELA 86
TENT 65
 
Final
SMU 72
TXSOU 59
 
Final
UTAH 85
TXPA 48
 
Final
LMU 66
UCR 62
 
Final
SCAR 89
UNCA 75
 
Final
SD 86
WAYNEST 69
 
Final
PITT 70
KYST 47
Final
UWGB 59
FLGC 45
 
Final
IOWA 70
NILL 49
 
Final
ORST 69
AUB 71
 
Final
MONT 75
CARROLLMT 52
 
Final
SUTAH 64
EKENT 73
 
Final
NMST 78
FAM 33
 
Final
WYO 65
STET 41
 
Final
EWASH 81
NKENTUCKY 60
 
Final
IDST 57
WLVRN 60
 
2nd
GEOR 53
UF 53
 
2nd
GONZ 75
UGA 63
 
Final
NIOWA 61
NW 42
 
2nd
CAL 48
CPSL 39
 
2nd
UCD 61
UTST 59
 
Half
SDST 31
ARZ 32
 
Half
NDAK 42
ALAST 21
 
1st
CSNO 20
PORST 28
 
11:30pm Tonight
AKAN
PAC
11:30pm Tonight
OKST
TULSA
Final
NYI 3
WAS 2
Final
BUF 1
WIN 2
Final
FLA 1
CAR 0
 
Final
TAM 4
NYR 3
 
Final
DET 5
PHI 2
 
Final
PIT 4
TOR 3
 
Final
MIN 0
LOS 4
 
3rd
COL 2
CHI 3
 
2nd
SJS 0
CAL 0