Ypsilanti – — Most college football fans got their first glimpse of Eastern Michigan football watching players try to knock down a brick wall before the opener against Morgan State.
First-year coach Chris Creighton wanted to send a message of toughness and work ethic.
But the plan backfired when the players swinging the sledgehammers couldn't break through the wall.
It pretty much summed up what the program has become — a laughingstock around college football.
Still, Creighton is undeterred.
"I believe football can be special here," said Creighton, who never has had a losing season in 17 years (Wabash and Drake). "I believe that.
"We believe there is a purpose in being here."
Eastern Michigan hasn't had a winning season since 1995, when it finished 6-5. In the past 25 years, Eastern Michigan is 75-201-1 (59-128-1) Mid-American Conference), the third-lowest winning percentage (.271) in college football during that span.
And as for bowls, Eastern Michigan has been to two — losing to Louisiana Tech in the 1971 Pioneer Bowl and defeating Fresno State in the 1987 California Bowl.
This year hasn't started off on the right foot, either, as Eastern Michigan enters Saturday's game at Michigan State with a 1-2 record.
"You learn more about yourself after your team loses than after winning," Creighton said.
"I also believe it is going to be unbelievable when we get to the spot where we are worthy of making people proud in terms of the box score on Saturday afternoons if we do it the right way."
There are several obstacles for Eastern Michigan to overcome to become a successful football program.
■It lags in financial support from alumni, unlike schools like Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Toledo and Bowling Green.
■Eastern Michigan's annual athletic budget is around $10.7 million, compared to Central Michigan's $25 million and Western Michigan's $25.4 million.
■It plays in the shadow of Michigan, a traditional college powerhouse with a national following.
■Attendance is among the worst in the country. The past two season averages were 4,051 and 3,928. The opener this season attracted 8,748.
■Western Michigan and Central Michigan have averaged more than 16,000 in the past two seasons and are ranked among the top five in the conference. Eastern Michigan's attendance ranked last.
Eastern Michigan opened a $3.9 million indoor practice bubble that lacks weight rooms, running tracks and indoor meeting rooms.
Central Michigan and Western Michigan have all of those amenities.
In addition, Western Michigan and Central Michigan opened state of the art indoor practice facilities.
The Don Seelye Athletic Center at Western Michigan cost about $25 million, while Central Michigan's practice facility has been visited by the University of Michigan and other major schools.
Creighton has tried to rally the student body by greeting each of the 3,800 residence hall students with a letter tied to their bed posts with the football schedule.
And, he is encouraging recruits to come to Eastern Michigan and build something new.
"Right or wrong I think athletics arouses the student body and alumni to express themselves and their pride for the school," Creighton said. "Be proud of who you are and be proud where you are from. If you are an Eastern Michigan undergrad you should be profoundly proud."
On the field, the Eagles are struggling, too.
Eastern Michigan lost to Florida, 65-0, and were outgained 655-125. Florida had 27 first downs to seven for Eastern Michigan.
Then, against Old Dominion, Eastern Michigan managed 215 yards of offense in a 17-3 loss.
"Eastern Michigan University is a very difficult place to win in Division I football," Regent Jim Stapleton said. "But I am pulling for coach Creighton."
Some, however, believe the end for Eastern Michigan football is — or should be — near.
Eugene Evans, a former staff writer for the Eastern Echo who works in Chicago, wrote an op-ed piece for the paper last year saying the school should get rid of football.
Despite the energy Creighton brings, Evans has not changed his mind.
"There are elements that want me to change my mind," Evans said. "Creighton is a nice guy, but it is going to come down to, can he produce? They (alumni) will not only be calling for his head but for the program to be dispersed."
A look at the records of the last five coaches at Eastern Michigan:
* Chris Creighton is 1-2 in his first season.