TGT Podcast: What was true and what was false in the movie ”We are Marshall”? – The Grueling Truth The Grueling Truth Radio
On November 14, 1970, a chartered jet carrying most of the Marshall University football team was involved in a plane crashnear Tri-State Airport in Kenova, West Virginia, killing all onboard. They had just returned from playing East Carolina University that day, losing 17-14. Thirty-seven Marshall football players, along with their coach, doctors, athletic director and 25 team boosters from Huntington, were aboard; “[the whole] fabric and heart of Huntington [were aboard].” A citizen later wrote.
This crash was just one of many tragic events to befall Marshall football since 1960, when their stadium, which hadn’t been renovated since World War II, was condemned, and their playing surface became too unsafe to use. From 1966 through mid-1969, Marshall had not won any games. Worse yet, the NCAA had suspended them for over 100 recruiting violations (and expelled them from the Mid-American Conference as well). But Marshall seemed to be back on track: It had fired all its dishonest coaches, built an Astroturf field, and started winning games again. On February 14, Marshall narrowly lost to East Carolina but looked forward to an exciting campaign the following season.
Huntington residents recall the plane crash as similar to President Kennedy’s assassination: everyone knows where and what they were doing when they heard of its news. Immediately afterwards, mourning ensued throughout town: shops and government offices closed; businesses on Huntington’s main street draped their windows with black bunting; the university held a memorial service in its stadium the next day before canceling Monday classes; funerals had to be spread out over weeks due to so many being performed; one particularly heartbreaking ceremony saw six unidentified players being laid rest for eternity at Spring Hill Cemetery on a hill overlooking their university home: six players buried together after having gone without identification were interred there on a hill overlooking Huntington – an act which caused no small amounts of regretment among its many inhabitants whose lives would forever change them all for evermore.
Marshall hired Jack Lengyel from the College of Wooster in Ohio as their new football coach and began rebuilding their squad. The NCAA allowed Lengyel to put freshmen onto his varsity squad; thus creating an eclectic mix of first-years, walk-ons, and nine veteran players who hadn’t been involved with the plane crash that night. Although Marshall lost its opening game of 1971 against Ohio Xavier University 15-13 with a dramatic last-second touchdown against them, Marshall eventually went on to win nine more under Lengyel during his four year stint with us but none as emotionally.
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