|Tom Michel, pictured above
during his East Carolina playing days, died on Monday. A member of the school's sports
Hall of Fame, Michel played for the Pirates from 1960-63. The photo is from the Sept. 21,
1963, game program, (pictured below) for the East Carolina-Wake Forest matchup that
christened Ficklen Stadium.
If you were anywhere
near what was then East Carolina College in 1963, you know or have heard of Tom Michel.
That year in Pirate lore belonged to the Goliath-like fullback that made the Clarence
Stasavich Single Wing fly.
On Monday, the Pirate
community lost another great warrior when William Thomas Michel passed away.
stunned, former Pirates coach and administrator Dr. Henry VanSant said. Tom
has got to be one of the greatest fullbacks to ever play at East Carolina, no question
about it. He was a hard player and a good person and good friend. He really loved the game
and being around it."
To his coaches, Michel
was a pioneer, a bold example of a truly elite player choosing to blaze his trail in the
dawn of a new era for East Carolina's then-fledgling but ambitious program.
Fair to say, he was
one of the first really great football players at ECU, VanSant said. We had
some earlier, of course, guys like James Speight and Glenn Bass, but Tom was one of the
very first NFL football players that we had from East Carolina.
To his teammates,
particularly the underclassmen, he was a player to take note of.
Yes, he was larger
than life to some of us, backfield mate Jerry Tolley recalled of his former
teammate. I remember when I was a true freshman, I was there with all the other
freshmen and Tom looked like a big offensive tackle to me and I remarked to someone they
have some big linemen here and he said, No Jerry, he is our fullback.
I remember when I was
a freshman and not dressing out, we played against Indiana University of Pennsylvania in
Greenville and I remember from my viewpoint, Tom had such an outstanding game. I remember
it because I wrote my first college English paper on Tom Michel and the game he had that
evening. He was so big and fast.
Michel came to East Carolina
from Arlington, VA, and was an outstanding tailback in Jack Boones offense in
1960-61 and then starred for Clarence Stasavich in 1962-63.
It was 63, however,
when he led the team with 830 yards rushing, paving the way for a 9-1 season, culminating
in a 27-6 win over Northeastern in the Eastern Bowl, played in Allentown, PA. In that
game, Michel scored the games first touchdown on a 15-yard carry and then scored
again on an 82-yard run off a fake lateral.
Just two points separated
that 1963 team from a perfect season.
Michel was part of so many
Pirates firsts, including the teams first Bowl victory in that 1963 season. He was
also the first player to score a touchdown in Ficklen Stadium.
He was a leader on the first
team to beat an Atlantic Coast Conference foe, which happened to be in the Pirates' first
game against an ACC school which happened to be played in the first game in the
then-new Ficklen Stadium.
In that Sept. 21, 1963 game,
Michel piled up 120 yards in a 20-10 victory over Wake Forest which featured a
player of its own destined for fame by the name of Brian Piccolo in front of 17,000
galvanized Pirates fans.
Michel garnered a Little
All-America nomination as well as a place on the coveted all-State team that year.
I never think of Tom
without thinking of him in that Ficklen Dedication Game against Wake Forest, VanSant
said. He scored all three touchdowns that game.
Tom was more on the
quiet side. He just wasnt a rah-rah type of guy, but when you gave Tom Michel the
ball and he broke the line of scrimmage, it was all over.
While he was a star on the
gridiron, Michel also left his mark on the Pirates track program, piling up five medals at
the NAIA Championships in 1962, including one in the 100 yard dash, an event in which
Michel regularly clocked 9.6's.
His stature belied the
fierce competitor and gifted talent he was.
Tom was funny because
he looked like a pulling guard, VanSant recalled. He was a little round
a little pudgy, not the long lean type, but he was 6-0 tall and he could fly.
A superior talent coming out
of ECU, Michel established another Pirate milestone when he was the first drafted in 1964
by the Oakland Raiders (19th round) in the AFL draft and the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL
draft (14th round). He chose the Vikings, where he went on to play for legendary coach
Norm VanBrocklin. There, Michel excelled right out of the gate as a regular with the
Vikings, but he eventually saw his career shortened by injuries incurred during that first
He went on to be inducted in
the East Carolina University Athletics Hall of Fame in 1978.
Michel married his college
sweetheart, the former Jean Crain niece of Harold Crain, co-owner of the Durham
company that built Ficklen Stadium. Michel once lovingly retold the story of how he met
his Jean, saying, "I met my wife in the cafeteria at East Carolina and she beat me in
a food fight."
He would later get to enjoy
the East Carolina football experience all over again when his son, Billy, suited up for
the Pirates from 1986-88. The younger Michel had a stellar career in the trenches for the
Pirates, playing offensive line.
With so much invested in
Greenville in his life, Michel remained in the community, close to his alma mater, working
for the U.S. Postal Service for 33 years before recently retiring.
Indeed, on Monday, a great
Pirate legend died.
He was one of my
(Pirate) heroes when he I got there, Tolley recalled. Tom was the epitome of
what an East Carolina player was and should be.
According to the obituary in
the Greenville Daily Reflector, a private family service will be held. In lieu of flowers,
memorials may be made to the East Carolina University Educational Foundation, 304 Ward
Sports Medicine Building, Greenville, NC 27858; or the American Diabetes Association, P.O.
Box 1131, Fairfax, VA 22038-1131.
Funeral arrangements are
being coordinated by Wilkerson Funeral Home & Crematory of Greenville.