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After the rain
Pirates' big win helps city cope with aftermath of Floyd
Posted: Wednesday September 29, 1999 01:33 PM
By Tim Peeler, Special to CNN/SI
GREENVILLE, N.C. -- Steve Logan's team could have folded when it went to South Carolina two weeks ago with only one day of practice. That's the week Hurricane Floyd crashed onto the North Carolina coast. But his team won 21-3.
Sure, his team could have used its unscheduled week-long stay at a Columbia, S.C., hotel as an excuse not to compete against Top 10 opponent Miami, a game that had to be moved from its own stadium because of massive flooding.
Instead, it mounted a 20-point second half comeback on national television and gave the beleaguered people of the state something to cheer for, a 27-23 victory over the Hurricanes and over the hurricane. The game at N.C. State's Carter-Finley Stadium will likely be remembered as East Carolina University's most important victory for many years to come.
For all of his sympathy for the "dumbfounding" problems facing Pirates territory, Logan wouldn't let his team lose sight of their winning goals.
"I told the players the week of the South Carolina game and the week of the Miami game that the story was already written for them, the excuses already have been made," Logan said. "They could go out and lose and [it would be because] we had a hurricane. 'Gollee, how can you expect to win?' The alternative was to go out and win the games. We have a sign in our locker room that says 'No excuses.' I believe that.
"Sometimes there are reasons that overwhelm your effort to win. By and large, our football team was very lucky. Compared to what I know about people living in shelters and some have lost some loved ones. We don't have any problems. We're fine. We're healthy."
The Pirates are also 4-0 and ranked No. 19 in the nation, heading into this weekend's game at Army, the team's Conference USA opener.
After two weeks off because of the floods, classes resumed Wednesday at East Carolina, bringing back some of the team's routine of class, practice and study hall. But things have not been normal for some time now.
The city of Greenville is one of the hardest hit areas from the floods caused by Hurricanes Dennis and Floyd. The Tar River, which divides Pitt County and rolls only a few hundred feet from downtown, crested early last week at 29.7 feet, more than twice its flood level. Further upstream, the flooding and damage were worse.
The numbers from eastern North Carolina are devastating: Forty-eight confirmed fatalities, including an 18-year-old ECU freshman. Six presumed dead. At one time, nearly 50,000 people in temporary shelters. More than 3,500 homes destroyed or hit by major damage. Nearly $800 million in lost livestock, crops and timber. Some 80 disinterred caskets found floating in the flood waters, along with propane and gas tanks, dead pigs, raw sewage and the contents of more than 50 hog waste lagoons from the region's pork industry.
When waters finally recede, damage to the state of North Carolina could exceed the $6.5 billion caused by Hurricane Fran in 1996, which was previously the state's biggest natural disaster.
Greenville's water supply shut down last week and residents are still told not to drink from taps.
Junior running back Jamie Wilson forgot about that Sunday, the team's first day back on campus in more than a week, and brushed his teeth when he woke up. He spent the rest of the afternoon recovering from an upset stomach.
"That won't happen again," he said.
The players were anxious to see what happened on campus and spent the early part of this week checking out the flood waters. Some two dozen players had to find new places to live, along with about 5,000 other ECU students, many of whom lived in two apartment complexes near the Tar River.
As of Monday, students were arriving to find Xs painted on their apartment doors, meaning their homes had been inspected and they could go in and retrieve personal items. However, many doors were marked with boxed Xs, which meant the buildings were condemned and no one was allowed inside. At least four rows of apartments at Tar River Estates, where several players lived, still had water up to the second floor.
Jeff Kerr, a senior linebacker, was affected by what he saw when he visited a temporary shelter Monday morning. A woman approached him in tears and gave him a big hug.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you," she told him. "You have no idea how much that win meant to us."
The woman, a season-ticket holder, had lost two apartments and most of her possessions in the flood.
That's when Kerr knew he and his teammates had done something special for people of the state, on a weekend when North Carolina was pummeled by Florida State, Duke extended its losing streak to six consecutive games and previously ranked N.C. State was stunned by Wake Forest.
"I didn't fully appreciate what they had been through," Kerr said. "When I saw her tears, my heart broke right there.
"I couldn't believe that someone could be that happy and joyful after everything they had lost and everything that had gone down the drain, just over us winning a football game. That was unbelievable."
Some questioned whether the Pirates should have even played Miami, given what had happened in the previous 10 days. Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium was unusable because of faltering utilities and some tried to convince ECU athletics director Mike Hamrick to cancel the game, out of reverence for those who had lost everything.
He knew better.
"There was no way we were not going to play this game," Hamrick said.
As for Logan, 46-37 in his seven-plus years with the Pirates, he took little time to reflect on his team's historic victory, which propelled ECU into the national rankings for the first time since 1995. He took a quick tour of town on Monday, otherwise he's been consumed with what he's always consumed with at this time of year: winning the next game.
"My thoughts on the bus ride home from the Miami game were about how we could stop the wishbone," Logan said. "What I hope and expect is that when we come back to practice that we have a single purpose to get prepared for this Army game. We can't be talking about the floods and hurricanes forever.
"We are going to play a football game Saturday."
And if all goes well, the people of eastern North Carolina will again have something to cheer about.
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