They Are...Marshall! and Just Might Make West Virginia's Afternoon Miserable

Tim McGheeCorrespondent IIIOctober 13, 2009

HOUSTON - NOVEMBER 17: The Marshall Thundering Herd walk down the ramp to take the field for the game with the Houston Cougars at Robertson Stadium November 17, 2007 in Houston, Texas. Houston won 35-28. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

My suggestion to every college football fan is the same as it was earlier last season: Make your next download or your next DVD rental We Are…Marshall! 


The 2006 film, starring Matthew McConaughey and Matthew Fox, is based on a true story of a community’s rise from the ashes of the worst airline disaster in sports history. 


On Nov. 14, 1970, a Southern Airways charter jet returning 75 Marshall University football players, coaches, and boosters from a loss at East Carolina University to the college town of Huntington, W. Va., crashed on approach to Tri-State Airport.  There were no survivors. 


Added to that tragedy is the compelling drama that was the struggle to keep the beloved football program alive against all odds.  They did, fielding a team of freshmen and walk-ons and (I’m not giving away any secrets here) winning their first home game.


Marshall has this incredibly powerful intangible that no school wants.  Still, after almost 39 years, "The Crash," as it is called, drives The Herd, giving them the propensity to do the improbable.


I know Marshall better than many West Virginia University graduates. I spent my teen years in the late '60s and the early '70s following them as fervently as I rooted for the Mountaineers.


I went to school there, and for one brief day as a high school senior considered walking on until I discovered that, even with a 1-10 record, the Marshall players had no necks and torsos that looked like big sacks full of bowling balls.


They would have broken me in half, and therein is my reasoning: MU seems like a patsy, but the college has throughout its history demonstrated the innate ability to, at any time and anywhere, win football games they shouldn’t win. Here’s a short list:



1971: Xavier, surprised in the second game after the jetliner tragedy, by the team named the Young Thundering Herd.

1976: Powerhouse Miami of Ohio, defeated for only the fifth time in forty games, and the first victory by Marshall over the Redskins since FDR's second term.
1984: Louisville, downed in their own house by a Herd team hungry for its first winning season in two decades.
1992: Youngstown State, with a last-second field goal for the Division I-AA national championship.
2003: AP No. 6 Kansas State, soundly defeated in Manhattan, Kansas.

That doesn’t include the near-misses:

1995: AP No. 11 North Carolina State in Raleigh, victorious over I-AA Marshall only by a last-minute fourth down pass-interference call against The Herd.  The flag was late, thrown seemingly after the ref deliberated for some time about its national implications.  It was one of the worst homers in the annals of college football.
2004: AP top ten Ohio State with my good friend Ross and me and 104,000 others at the Horseshoe, by virtue of a 56-yard howitzer of a walk-off field goal from the lively leg of All-America placekicker Mike “Call Me Stranglehold Ted” Nugent.


1997: West Virginia, in Morgantown, with Randy Moss and Chad Pennington, yet only one good offensive line away from Herd Nirvana.

Even considering my status as a Marshall fan, that WVU defeat would have angered me. So will this year's, if it happens.
And, it will happen, if the Mountaineers don’t look across the line and see 2007 Pittsburgh.

That’s the key. Marshall, lowly Marshall, has absolutely nothing to lose. Nothing. By this, they are by far the most dangerous opponent on the WVU schedule.
But gets worse. The Herd is well-coached, and has been well-coached since Stan Parrish took over back when Nancy Reagan was just beginning to say no.
You can’t throw a rock at a Marshall practice without hitting an outstanding athlete. And, there’s the Hollywood factor.
Marshall will ride the wave of the ever-present spirit of Matthew McConaughey into Morgantown, filling Mountaineer Field with the “We Are…Marshall!” chant, and if they are not summarily disposed of by halftime, it could be ugly for those wearing the blue and gold.

I think WVU will beat Marshall, and I want WVU to beat Marshall like a cheap drum, but this year The Herd has come together.  They have the athletes at the skill positions, one badass defensive front seven, and 85 scholarship players who want to save Mark Snyder's job.
What better way to keep the head man in there than to take the Friends of Coal Trophy back to Huntington.
So, the Mountaineers better not open up like they did against East Carolina, then putz around as they did on that Thursday night hosting Colorado.  The Herd will hang on and hang around, and eventually think they can actually win this game. 
That would make life miserable in Morgantown.
All Mountaineeers, from the players and the coaches on down to the ardent fans, should in no way look past this one.  Take off the lewd "sister in a whorehouse" T-shirts, boys and girls, and take this one seriously.


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