My dance card is nearly full.
Name a big game that Marshall University’s football program has played during the last 50 years. Odds are I was there. Just think about some of those epic games.
I was in the press box at old Fairfield Stadium when the Young Thundering Herd stunned Xavier 15-13 in the 1971 season for the Herd’s first post-crash win.
Next, during that same 1971 season, there was MU’s stunning 12-10 homecoming win over coach Don Nehlen’s Bowling Green Falcons.
There was a lengthy span between big games then, but it took off again under coach Bobby Pruett.
I was there when Marshall defeated South Carolina 24-21 on Billy Malashevich’s last-second field goal in Columbia, South Carolina in 1998. The same goes for the Herd’s huge 13-10 win over Clemson in South Carolina in 1999.
Later that season, I was in Detroit to watch Marshall thoroughly whip Brigham Young 21-3 in the Motor City Bowl. In 2002, I watched two offensive linemen carry injured MU quarterback Byron Leftwich down the field in Akron’s Rubber Bowl. It was, perhaps, the most surreal sight I’ve ever witnessed in a sporting event.
Then, in 2003, it was a trip to Manhattan, Kansas to cover Marshall’s stunning 27-20 upset over No. 6 Kansas State.
In 50 years of sports writing I’ve been so very fortunate to witness so very many big football games.
But there was one special day still out there. One game that would stand above all the others. One game that would be more monumental than all the others.
It was Marshall playing Middle Tennessee on the 50th anniversary of the tragic plane crash. There are milestones. There are achievements. There are landmarks.
And then there’s this.
This game — this one game — towered above all games in Marshall University’s history.
This wasn’t a must-win.
Instead, it was a must-not-lose game.
And that’s precisely what Marshall accomplished in a 42-14 victory over the Blue Raiders Saturday before 12,224 delighted fans at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
“What a great day it was for the fans,” said veteran Marshall head coach Doc Holliday. “What a great day. What a special day.”
Days simply don’t come any better than this one. I mean, how many times do we get to honor the players from the 1970 team on the 50th anniversary of their deaths?
That’s why Marshall needed to make the most of it. And, to Marshall’s credit, it stepped up and did exactly that.
It wasn’t easy. Nothing about anniversaries of “The Crash” ever have been. But this one was particularly difficult because there simply aren’t any do-overs for a 50th anniversary.
To the players’ credit, they understood that. It’s why the Herd got off to such a slow start against Middle Tennessee.
“I thought we were a little tight today for obvious reasons,” said Holliday. “It’s so emotional walking out on that field. It’s a very emotional week for us.”
It was a very emotional week for many of us. That’s particularly true for the folks who actually were here in Huntington when the crash devastated the community.
To think back to those tragic days and the nightmare they were, and then to watch what happened Saturday at “The Joan” … it was so gratifying and, yes, such a welcome relief.
And, again, I was there.
But this time was different. This time stood above all the others because this was the biggest of all those big games.
Happy 50th anniversary, fellas.