It's November 14 and today at noon there will be an emotional gathering at the Memorial Fountain on the campus of Marshall University. I know this because as a student and later as an assistant basketball coach, I attended and witnessed one of most unique experiences I have ever had on a college campus.
On November 14, 1970, a plane carrying the Marshall football team, staff, administrators and boosters crashed upon approach of the airport in Huntington killing all 75. I will have problems remembering later today where I placed my car keys but I will never forget sitting on the floor in front of the television those many years ago on a raining night in West Virginia only to have the television show I was watching be interrupted by a news bulletin. I can remember clearly an extremely emotional broadcaster named Bos Johnson come on the air to give us all the news that the Thundering Herd's plane had gone down in the hills just short of the runway. Later as a journalism student at Marshall, I had a class taught by Bos Johnson where one day he spoke about the difficulty of delivering the news that night when he knew personally so many on the plane.
The Memorial Fountain will be turned off today in honor of those lives lost and remain off until the spring.
Huntington is like a lot of college towns -- it's special and unique and makes up a lot of what the community is about. College football is a big part of that and in a brief tragic moment it was taken away. As is documented in the movie "We Are Marshall," with great debate, the university opted to continue football the next season without pause. What the movie doesn't tell is the story of the next few decades and how incredibly difficult it was for the football program to rebuild. While I was a student at Marshall in the late 70's, there was actually a vote to eliminate football at Marshall with a few believing it would never return to a program of respectability.
But rise from the ashes we did. Today Marshall is preparing for a game tonight in a season where they will have an opportunity to again play in a bowl game. And that speaks for the spirit of more people that can be counted that over the years have worked hard to restore and maintain excellence in the Thundering Herd program.
I am biased of course, but I think it is the most devastating story in sports followed by one of the great comeback stories certainly of my lifetime. Not the comeback of an injured player or a team that was struggling. But of a program that was briefly but completely erased from the field of competition.
Above all, however, today is a day to remember those who perished while representing Marshall University. Today is in their memory.
WE ARE MARSHALL