Former Pirate Byner Speaks At ECU Practice

A chance run in with former ECU running back Earnest Byner gave the Pirates the spark they needed during Thursday's rain-delayed practice.

GREENVILLE, N.C. — A weather delay in the middle of Thursday’s first summer practice led to an unlikely encounter for head coach Ruffin McNeill.

McNeill, while out testing his newly healed hip following surgery in the spring, ran into former Pirate running back Earnest Byner, whose family still resides in Greenville, while on a walk during the rain delay.

“It was my first day walking after hip surgery and I ran into (Byner),” McNeill recalled. “I could hardly recognize him because I was sweating too much. I said ‘talk to the team’ and during that lightning break he came and talked to them.”

Byner infamously holds a spot in Cleveland Brown lore for being responsible for the “The Fumble” in 1987 during the AFC Championship Game against John Elway and the Denver Broncos. His fumble has long overshadowed his storied NFL career that featured two Pro Bowls and 56 touchdowns and an induction into the Raven’s Ring of Honor.

Now though, after a 13-year NFL career as a player, plus nearly 25 years as a coach and player developer, Byner took to a football locker room once again, speaking to ECU’s team during a two-hour rain delay.

“He has an amazing story,” McNeill said. “We’re talking about a guy that played here, loves East Carolina…and he talked to the team. What an amazing job he did.”

In most cases, a break in the action on the team’s first day of summer camp would be less than ideal. But with McNeill calling his encounter with Byner as “God’s plan” the coach was more than willing to sit out a few hours to honor his guest.

“That break was not a bad thing for us because they got to speak to one of the greatest and he got to portray things that he learned,” McNeill said. “It was a really awesome thing for us.”

McNeill noted that Byner’s speech helped awaken what was becoming a lethargic afternoon thanks to the grim weather and dark skies. The practice hiatus, combined with Byner’s words of wisdom helped revive the session and gave a noticeable spark to a squad in need of it.

According to McNeill, the former Pirate touched on things ranging from his own infamous fumble to former Packer Brandon Bostick’s botched onside kick recovery in last year’s NFC Championship game and how to overcome the struggles of dealing with mistakes.

“When another player comes to practice, it doesn’t matter who it is, I ask them to come speak to the team,” McNeill said. “Normally they would come talk after practice but the lightning came and it actually worked out prefect.”

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