My suggestion to every college football fan: Make your next download or your next DVD rental We Are…Marshall! The film, starring Matthew McConaughey and Matthew Fox, is based on a true story of a community’s rise from the ashes of the worst airliner disaster in sports history. On November 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, West Virginia, 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, which they did, fielding a team of freshmen and walk-ons and (I’m not giving away any secrets here) winning their first home game.
After all the seasons and teams and the nameless, faceless players, as well as those more recognizable such as Troy Brown, Chad Pennington, Randy Moss, and Byron Leftwich, the aftermath of the plane crash has never left those even remotely involved with Marshall. I went to school there for a few years, and the emotion invoked by merely writing the first few sentences of this piece burns. I’m almost sure the feelings are that strong for the others.
Probably as a result of all of us bonded by the ultimate sacrifice on that dreary autumn evening, Marshall football games are special. When the Thundering Herd takes the field, the air is rarefied with the belief that at any time something magical is about to happen. By taking a walk through Marshall football history, you see why. You encounter the Young Thundering Herd of 1971 establishing the feisty, frightening spoiler of the 70s. You watch film of Marshall whirling through the 80s and the 90s with a free-wheeling, exciting pro-set passing game, leading its emergence into the new century as a I-A power. Ask Xavier, Miami (Ohio), Louisville, the Jim Tressel-coached Youngstown State, North Carolina State, Kansas State, Brigham Young, Georgia, Tennessee, and Ohio State. Along the way, those teams wondered what possessed them to schedule Marshall, as they were either conquered by The Herd or had the beegebees scared out of them in their own backyards.
One can argue that Marshall is indeed a team destined to play for the glory of those whose days were cut way too short. The teams most certainly do just that, and for that they are a proud bunch. They live the urgency that is sometimes lost in sports. Herd fans are amazingly able to juggle that do-it-now with the journey, knowing that for their 1970 team, there was indeed no “wait ‘til next year.”
Which brings us to the upset of this year.
On September 27, Marshall, 3-9 last year, will travel to Morgantown for their annual skirmish with West Virginia University, the 2008 Fiesta Bowl champions. They’ve never beaten the Mountaineers. However, this year, the Herd’s passing attack with its ultra-talented receivers and the quarterback corps will challenge the soft secondary of WVU. They’ll be able to match Pat White point-for-point and make the Heisman candidate earn his stripes by forcing him to lead a drive for the winning touchdown. When it gets that close, it’s difficult to call. But, I’ll say this: the word is out on the spread, however Bill Stewart wishes to package it, and Marshall will draw from what South Florida and Pitt did last year, and will be moved by the movie, and will dig in for everything that is pride and desire. It will be for one final fourth down and goal, and the Thundering Herd has spent the last 38 years in that situation…and truly has absolutely nothing to lose.
Marshall by 4.