ECU Hall of Famer Tony Collins, who played for ECU in the late 1970s, proudly displays a 2010 Liberty Bowl ring given to him by his stepson T.J. Terrell for Father's Day that year. Terrell earned three bowl rings as a receiver for the Pirates. Collins was the Pirates' all-purpose yards leader for three years and led the team in rushing with 1,130 yards in 1979. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

Pirate faithful celebrate Dowdy-Ficklen's 50th

Aug. 28, 2013

By Jamitress Bowden and Doug Boyd
ECU News Services

Conceived by former Chancellor Leo Jenkins, named for faithful Pirate philanthropists and stamped with the legends of Stasavich, Dye, Blake, Johnson and others, Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium marks its golden anniversary this fall.

During its history, the stadium has seen 37 winning seasons at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and an all-time home record of 167-85-1 heading into the 2013 campaign.

James Skinner Ficklen Memorial Stadium, as it was originally known, was dedicated Sept. 21, 1963. ECU defeated Wake Forest that day 20-10 with 17,000 people in attendance to open the season and the venue. Ficklen, who died in 1955, was one of Greenville’s leading business leaders and the head of E.B. Ficklen Tobacco Co. Among other acts, he established a trust to fund ECU scholarships.

Later that season, with the Pirates off to a strong start, Odell Welborn stepped in as interim coach after head coach Clarence Stasavich suffered a heart attack after the fourth game.

“A lot of things happened that year,” said Welborn. Among them was a stout defense that gave up only 54 points all season and the school’s first bowl victory at the Eastern Bowl against Northeastern University.

Former ECU Pirates coach Odell Welborn is shown at the 50-year-old Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)
“Our men were very impressed and very proud of their new stadium – although it wasn’t finished yet – and they played extra hard,” said Welborn.

Chancellor Leo Jenkins announced plans for the stadium Oct. 7, 1961, during a Society of Buccaneers meeting. Jenkins and those in attendance left the meeting with a goal to raise $200,000. More than $283,000 was raised within the next year. The stadium – once completed – included a small press box, the southern permanent stands and lighting that was removed following the 1974 season.

Before that, the football team had played in various locations from its inception in 1932 until College Stadium was completed in 1949. Built behind Christenbury Gym, it cost $25,000 and had 2,000 seats. The Pirates won the first game played at College Stadium on Sept. 15, 1949, against Cherry Point. The stadium was built as a way to increase male enrollment because of the decrease of GI Bill enrollment.

Looking back

ECU Hall of Fame member Dr. Jerry Tolley played on the 1962-1964 teams as a wingback and defensive back.

“It was exciting playing in our first game at the stadium …and then to beat them,” he said. A couple of his favorite moments playing with ECU were during the Wake Forest game in a then brand new Ficklen Stadium and at the 1964 Tangerine Bowl against Massachusetts in Tampa, Fla., where he intercepted a pass that set up a touchdown. “That was my favorite because we won and it was my senior year.”

In 1968, permanent north stands were added to Ficken Stadium, and 10 years later the stands on each side were widened and capacity increased to 35,000. Lights and a three-story press box were added. The Marching Pirates opened each game with a “stirring rendition” of the national anthem, and when longtime announcer John Moore would intone, “The ball is at the 35, where it is a FIRST DOWN,” fans would loudly respond “PIRATES!”

Playing on a national level

Jim Bolding played free safety for the Pirates from 1973-1976. “In my four years, we lost one home game,” he said. He added that the best experiences were friendships he made. “They have the biggest impact on your life. Back then we played for state respect. Now, ECU is on a national level.”

Head coach Ruffin McNeil was a four-year letterman at defensive back in the late 1970s under head coach Pat Dye. McNeil said his parents attended every home game he played. McNeil said being able to coach at the university where he played and earned his degree is “an honor and a privilege.”

Another player of that era, running back Tony Collins, said winning the 1978 Independence Bowl is one of his favorite moments while playing for ECU. Collins said that it is great to see how far ECU has come with the facilities and how big the stadium is now. He said he enjoys seeing his former teammate Ruffin McNeil as head coach at his alma mater. “He was one of us,” Collins said.

Collins left ECU without graduating but returned in 2011. "I came back and graduated at 52 years old with a communications degree, the same year that I went into the ECU Hall of Fame, so that was a really good year for me."

Vinson Smith recalled always seeing stickers on cars from other large universities in the state and now, he said he sees more and more ECU stickers. Smith, a member of the Pirate Hall of Fame, played from 1984 - 1987. “Attending East Carolina was my biggest accomplishment and I enjoyed every minute,” he said.

In 1991, quarterback Jeff Blake led the Pirates to 10 straight wins including home victories over South Carolina and Pittsburgh and a comeback Peach Bowl win over rival N.C. State to cap a school-record 11-1 campaign.

Expanding the stadium

Despite the gridiron success, other than a few coats of paint, not much changed from the late 1970s until April 1994, when Ron and Mary Dowdy donated $1 million to ECU and the football stadium was renamed Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Three years later, as recognition for their gift to the Pirate Club’s Shared Visions Campaign, Al and Debby Bagwell became a part of Dowdy-Ficklen stadium as the university named the field in their honor: Bagwell Field at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

In 1998, a north-side upper deck increased capacity to 40,000. A year later, club seating added 3,000 more seats.

That expansion allowed 43,000 fans to watch All-Conference USA and All-America running back Chris Johnson run into the Pirate record books from 2004 - 2007. During his career, he helped lead the Pirates to home wins over North Carolina, Virginia and others.

By 2009 ECU fans needed more space, so in 2010 the university closed in the east end zone, bringing capacity to 50,000. A giant scoreboard and video screen completed the upgrade. 

Making new memories

This fall, while ECU highlights the good times, the standout teams and the key people at Dowdy-Ficklen through the years, today’s players are looking forward to making some history of their own.

Will Simmons, an offensive lineman and health fitness specialist major, is aiming for a conference championship.

Receiver Justin Hardy, a sports studies major, wants the Pirates to win a big bowl game.

Quarterback Shane Carden, a sports studies major, is looking forward to the Sept. 14 matchup against perennial power Virginia Tech. “It’s our first big out-of-conference game and it will be a great opportunity to show the country how good our team is.”

Running back Vintavious Cooper, a communications major, summed up what a lot of his teammates might be thinking when he said, “We have a lot of expectations for ourselves, and we’re looking forward to putting on pads and showing just how good we are.”

“I’m excited we can celebrate the traditions, student athletes, coaches, memories, success and fans that have been a part of Dowdy for the past 50 years,” said Lee Workman, associate athletics director for administration.


A complete list of events and promotions celebrating the stadium’s anniversary, including all-time teams as voted on by fans, is online at Among the items included in that listing are the following game day commemorations:

Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium 50th Anniversary
Decade-by-Decade Themes

For each home contest during the 2013 season, a different era will be celebrated with decade-appropriate game programs and stadium entertainment :
Aug. 31 vs. ODU - 1960s
Sept. 5 vs. Florida Atlantic - 1970s
Sept. 14 vs. Virginia Tech - 1980s
Oct. 19 vs. Southern Miss - 1990s
Nov. 9 vs. Tulsa - 2000s
Nov. 16 vs. UAB - 2010-Current

Untitled Document
The early 1960s saw fundraising efforts for the planned new stadium and a groundbreaking event to formalize plans, pictured above.

As the decade continued, plans turned into reality as the bleachers began to rise on the field, pictured below. The finishing touch was the gate through which fans entered the stadium.
"I was a student here in the late 60s and it [the stadium] was an incredibly welcomed addition to campus."

Dr. Phyllis Horns
ECU Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences
"This is big time college football. I take a lot of pride in that we helped build this."

Jim Bolding '76
ECU Pirates Free Safety

"I go to every game...once a Pirate, always a Pirate."

Tony Collins '11
Former running back

"The Pirate spirit is contagious and win or lose, it's there."

Dr. Virginia Hardy
ECU Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs
"Saturday game day says a lot about the Pirate Nation."

Dr. Steve Ballard
ECU Chancellor

Dowdy-Ficklen 50th Anniversary

Tell a friend about this page.
All fields required.
Can be sent to only one email address at a time.
Share Facebook Icon Twitter Icon
Untitled Document
Untitled Document