Historic Day in College Football Approaching
If life were a movie, then this Saturday Marshall University’s football team would be playing at East Carolina. ESPN’s “Gameday” would be there, starting an extended broadcast at 9 a.m. to recap a tragic—and yet historic—day.
They could include an interview with actor Matthew McConaughey, who played the lead role in We Are Marshall. The 2006 film introduced millions to the saga; after filming, McConaughey joined the team on the sidelines at a home game.
Aside from the Hollywood chops, there’s the historical irony of Nov. 14, 2020 falling on the same day of the week as Nov. 14, 1970. That’s the day a plane crash that claimed 75 Marshall lives: players, staff, and boosters.
The ill-fated flight followed Marshall’s 17-14 loss to East Carolina in Greenville, N.C. The disaster remains the worst in college football history.
A Victim of COVID-19
While they no longer play regularly, the two schools scheduled a game for this year. Even moved it up a week to coincide with the season’s opening weekend. Then along came COVID-19.
Forced to postpone, the respective athletic directors rescheduled for Sept. 12. That had become an open date for Marshall because of the pandemic.
Alas, North Carolina was still restricting in-person stadium events the first half of September. There went the game again.
After several-schedule juggling matches, the Thundering Herd is slated to host Middle Tennessee State on Nov. 14. For those with a sense of history, that’s another tragedy.
I realize the obstacles to Marshall playing at East Carolina this Saturday were huge. Besides the pandemic, there were respective college football conference schedules and other logistical considerations.
Still, as a local football referee said to me early in the season, “Those two schools should be playing each other on Nov. 14. If the powers that be really wanted to, they could have made it happen.”
For me, the Marshall plane is synonymous with other epic events. It’s like asking, “Where were you on the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated? When the Challenger Space Shuttle went down? When 9-11 happened?”
Most people can easily answer those questions. Maybe not as readily for Marshall. But I vividly remember hearing about the tragedy on a radio report near Chicago after attending a Society of Professional Journalists conference.
The other Ohio University students riding in the car were equally dismayed. Ohio U. had been scheduled to host Marshall the following Saturday.
Showing respect, the OU athletic department arranged a memorial service at Peden Stadium the following Saturday. A football placed on a tee on an empty field signified the solemness of the event.
Of course, when this happened, I had no idea that I would wind up moving to Huntington, West Virginia six years later. And, move away twice, only to return—the second time because of the death of our second-oldest daughter.
I never quite grasped the gaping wounds the crash left until I lived here. Six years after it happened, people were still in a daze. Still hurting because of the loss of friends, family members, and pillars of the community.
Had some of them had their way, Marshall wouldn’t have played college football again. They thought to do so disrespected those who had died.
Fortunately, they didn’t prevail. In the years since, Marshall has achieved national recognition for its winning records and stars like Chad Pennington, Randy Moss, and Byron Leftwich.
There is a ton of significance wrapped up in Nov. 14. When the CBS Sports Network airs Marshall’s game, I hope they will devote significant air time to the long-term impact.