Many of you may not know the answer to this, though it has become more well-known in recent years. It does not have to do with one of the premiere schools in the nation, but rather a smaller, less known school that sits on the banks of the Ohio River.
The school I am talking about is Marshall University. Sound familiar now? There was a movie made a few years ago about a great tragedy that rocked Marshall, the surrounding community and the nation called “We Are Marshall”. On November 14, 1970, the Marshall football team, coaches, staff and team supporters were flying back to Huntington, West Virginia from a game in Greenville, North Carolina where Marshall had just lost to the East Carolina Pirates. The plane clipped some treetops just short of the airport outside Huntington and went down, killing all 75 people on board. The exact cause of the crash has never been determined.
This tragedy struck the nation. It still remains the worst single air tragedy not only in NCAA sports history, but also in American sports history. The entire football team was rebuilt around the few surviving members of the team, who had stayed behind in Huntington. They were supported by many other college football teams around the nation. Marshall struggled to rebuild their team for many years. In 1984, Marshall finished 6-5, which was their first winning season in 20 years. They continued their winning ways, especially in the 1990s, when they got the attention of the nation once again, this time for a different reason.
Marshall was one of the losingest teams in the 1960s and they were starting to rebuild around the time of the plane crash. The Marshall football team literally rose from the ashes in the 1990s, as they achieved what the late 1970 team was hoping to achieve. Marshall had the winningest football program in the nation during that decade, posting a record of 114-25.
Why is this so significant for college football?
Marshall is the reason why freshmen can play in college football games. Freshmen had to wait to play on the varsity team until they were sophomores prior to the plane crash. After the crash, the school convinced the NCAA to let them play their freshman so they could play the next season. Without them, Marshall wouldn’t have had much of a team for the next year. The “Young Thundering Herd” debuted in 1971 and had a roster full of those freshman and some new recruits. Without the efforts of Marshall, we would not be able to watch freshman make their mark on college football, as Johnny Manziel did and as Jameis Winston is doing right now.
Tonight, the Marshall football team will play its first away game on this day since the day of that fateful crash as they travel to Tulsa to take on the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. They will wear the No. 75 on their helmets to honor those victims of the plane crash.
Marshall fans all across the country will not be able to breathe a sigh of relief until the plane carrying the team lands safely back in Huntington.