Growing up a college football fan in California, I had always wanted to make it to Marshall University. Marshall sits in the beautiful rolling hills of southern West Virginia. My desire to get to Marshall was mostly because of what I knew about the tragic plane crash, but I learned there is a lot of history besides the tragedy.
The first thing I noticed upon arrival is that, “Big Brother” West Virginia grabs all the instate love. The true Marshall fans are a small bunch, but deeply devoted to the Green and White! Tailgating here is confined to a relatively small area, but the fans make the most of it. Fans I spoke with on this hot, sultury day were eagerly awaiting the next game against the Louisville Cardinals. I wondered if that would trickle down to the football team.
Marshall football began in 1895. The football team played without a coach in the early years. In 1902 George Ford became the first ever head coach. The team played in the Independent ranks until 1925. It was at that point Marshall joined the West Virginia Athletic Conference. Jim Donnan and Bob Pruett combined to put Marshall in the national spotlight. Each coach led the Thundering Herd to a Division 1-AA championship! In 1997 the Herd moved to the FBS level by joining the Mid-American Conference. They dominated the MAC winning five conference titles, before moving onto Conference USA in 2005. Bob Pruett is the winningest head coach in program history with 94 wins. Current head coach Doc Holliday is a local boy from Hurricane, West Virginia. He played at West Virginia University.
On November 14 1970, Southern Airways flight 932 departed Kinston, North Carolina for Huntington. The team was returning home after suffering a 17-14 loss to East Carolina. On board, were 36 members of the football team and nine coaches. The effects of the crash went far beyond the Marshall campus. Because it was the Herds only chartered flight of the season, many dignitaries were also on the plane. Those included a city councilman, a state legislator, and four physicians. All 75 people on board the plane were killed when the plane crashed just short of the runway in Huntington. Seventy children lost at least one parent in the crash and were left orphaned. After the crash, receivers coach Red Dawson and others convinced the school to retain the football program. Dawson helped bring together a group of players on the junior varsity team, along with many other student athletes who had not played football before, to keep the program alive. The tragedy and what happened afterward were made into a movie called “We are Marshall.” The 2006 film starred Mathew McConaughey and Mathew Fox.
- The Herd play their home games at Joan C. Edwards stadium. Joan and her husband James donated over $65 million to the university. The stadium is one of only two FBS stadiums named after a woman. ( The other being Williams-Brice stadium at South Carolina.)
- Since moving into the stadium, Marshall has the second highest home winning percentage in the nation at 141-26. Baylor is 6-0 lifetime at McLane stadium!
- In 1915 Marshall unveiled what was known as the “Tower” play. It involved one receiver lifting another on his shoulders to complete a pass! This led to a rule change in 1916.
- The Herd have claimed two National Championships and 14 Conference titles.
- Marshall is 10-3 lifetime in bowl games, including a 16-10 victory over UCONN in last years St. Petersburg bowl.
- Marshall has produced 21 All-Americans, most notably Byron Leftwich, Randy Moss, Chad Pennington and Darius Watts.
- Marco the Buffalo is the official mascot for the Herd.
- “We are Marshall” chants can be heard throughout the game during big moments. It signifies the rebirth of the football program following the plane crash.
Marshall jumped out to a quick 21-7 lead over Akron in the first quarter. The Zips used a blocked punt and a fumble return in the second quarter to stun the home crowd enroute to 34 unanswered-points and a commanding 41-21 lead at the half. The second half was more of the same, as the Zips passing game was just too much for an overmatched Herd secondary. Akron went onto win 65-38 moving to 2-1 on the season. The loss dropped the Herd to 1-1. I guess the football team was also looking ahead to Louisville.