HUNTINGTON — Marshall offensive lineman Tarik Adams got a little choked up during Monday’s player interviews at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
The reason? He was asked what the annual ‘75’ game means to him.
Adams’ voice softened and he took a few seconds as he looked for the right words.
“The ‘75’ game is very important here in the community,” Adams started. “Even down in Georgia, I knew about what happened here at Marshall and the tragedy that struck. To be able to play this game and honor the legacy that those guys left is pretty important. ...
“These guys are like our brothers, our teammates, you know? Just coming back from a game and — you never know what can happen — tragedy struck.”
This Thursday marks the 49-year anniversary of the 1970 plane crash of Southern Airways Flight 932, which carried Marshall’s football team, coaches and boosters as they returned from a 17-14 loss to East Carolina.
Upon getting the Marshall head coaching job, Doc Holliday wanted to ensure that the legacy set forth by that tragedy was one of the core items that his program was built on.
“Marshall is a special place and we have a special story, but you have to educated the kids,” Holliday said. “The kids see the movie, but they don’t fully understand what the importance of this football program is unless you educate them on what it’s all about.
“I think it’s important that anyone who plays here understands how important this football team is and what it means to the community, the fan base and the school.”
Marshall has always honored those lost in the crash with the memorial service, which involves shutting off the Marshall Memorial Fountain outside of the Memorial Student Center, but Holliday wanted his program to do more.
Each year, when the team first comes to Huntington to start its summer program, the entire team runs to Spring Hill Cemetery where they hear WSAZ-TV sports director Keith Morehouse — whose father, then-Marshall play-by-play voice Gene Morehouse, was lost in the crash — talk about the impact on the Huntington community.
There is also now the annual ‘75’ game, which Holliday has instituted into the fabric of an emotional week. The contest during that week has always been an important one for those surrounding the Thundering Herd, but under Holliday’s guidance, that has taken a step forward due to his emphasis on the event, which shaped the framework of the program as it stands today.
Quarterback Isaiah Green, who played in his first ‘75’ game as a freshman last season, said there is a definite difference in the atmosphere surrounding the annual game.
“It just feels like there’s an extra spirit out there with us — an invisible 12th player on the field,” Green said. “That’s how it feels and how I would describe the feeling playing in this game.”
Prior to Friday’s contest, Marshall’s players will take part in Thursday’s memorial ceremony. As part of that ceremony, players will each set a rose on the fountain in honor of one of those lost in the plane crash.
When Marshall running back Brenden Knox lays his rose on the side of the fountain, he will do so wearing his No. 20 jersey, a jersey that was worn by Rick Lech during the 1970 season.
While Knox and Lech are a generation apart, their ties go well beyond just playing at Marshall and wearing the same number. Knox and Lech are each from Columbus, Ohio, and went to Franklin Heights High School, as reearched by WOWK-TV’s Jake Siegel on Monday.
“There’s a lot of things that line up in this game,” Holliday said. “We know what the reason is.”
Everything from the game-day preparation to the game-day attire — black jerseys and pants and a helmet that has the 1970 logo on one side and ‘75’ emblem on the other — is dedicated to the memory of those lost.
The emphasis placed on the game by Holliday has also translated to the field. In Holliday’s previous nine ‘75’ contests at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, Marshall has not suffered defeat.
“They love to play in this game,” Holliday said. “It’s the only time you put that black jersey on, the only time you put that ‘75’ on your helmet. When you do that, you strap it up a little tighter, prepare a little harder and get ready to go play a great game. You feel the responsibility you have as a coach and a player to uphold the standard that is expected.”