David Walsh: In 1971 and today, motivation drives MU
I signed some autographs Saturday. Had some cheers and applause directed at me. Got my picture on the front page in The Herald-Dispatch. Not bad for someone nearly 40 years removed from college football. What on earth brought this on?
On this rainy day, I was at the Marshall Student Center to cover the first Marshall Athletics Spring Fountain Celebration. The theme: "Celebrating the rebirth of Thundering Herd Football." Shortly before noon, the water began shooting a symbolic skyward again from the Memorial Fountain. That fountain goes silent at the end of each Memorial Service on Nov. 14 to honor the 75 people -- Marshall football players, coaches, boosters and airline staff -- who died in the plane crash in 1970.
Starting with Saturday, turning the fountain back on will be a special event each spring football game weekend. The Young Thundering Herd (1971-74) gets to do the honor. They are the coaches, players and staff who picked up the pieces after the crash to keep football going. It's a way to honor them, the commitment made to forge ahead in trying times and all the players who have worn the Thundering Herd uniform following 1970. That's where I fit in. Young Herd quarterback then, journalist now.
Saturday's ceremony marked the 40th anniversary of the Young Thundering Herd's first spring practice and spring game after the crash. When all the speeches had been given and the fountain came back to life, many in attendance made their way to Joan C. Edwards Stadium for the 2011 spring game where future Herd stars would be on display under coach Doc Holliday.
From the rainy Friday morning, when the Marshall M-Club held its first golf outing, to the Big Green Scholarship Foundation Banquet that night through the fountain ceremony, it was touching to see Young Herd players and coaches shake hands and hug one another when they met. Reggie Oliver, Charles Henry, Roger Hillis, Ace Loding, assistant coach Jim McNally, Jim Wulf, Jack Crabtree, Bob Compton, assistant coach Mickey Jackson, Bob Crawford, Rex Repass, head coach Jack Lengyel and many, many more. Back in 1971, when someone extended a hand, it usually was to help a teammate up or off the field after they got hurt.
Then came the reminiscing. Topics included that first game back in 1971 at Morehead State, the shocking upset of Xavier at home the next week, the first two plane trips (Northern Illinois and Western Michigan), a 66-6 loss at Miami (Ohio), facing Chuck Ealey and Mel Long and unbeaten Toledo at Fairfield Stadium, how I got recruited to Marshall ... and on, and on and on.
Dan Canada, an offensive lineman for the Young Herd from Pikeville, Ky., was one of the speakers Saturday. Today, Canada is director of operations for Chandler Concrete Company and resides in Christiansburg, Va. When asked to evaluate his former teammate's oratory skills, Oliver said with a smile, "He did a great job. All he could do back then was ask me what's the snap count?"
Oliver and Henry then reflected on what the fountain ceremony meant to the Young Thundering Herd alums.
"We had a challenge thrown at us. We accepted," Oliver said. "There's a new directive. It ain't about rebuilding. We took that step, got some butt whippings along the way. It's time to get back to winning. Do what's necessary."
"We have something no other school has," Henry said. "A tragedy put us there. We've shown great commitment to make it back. We're not done."
Heart, regardless of one's role, got Marshall football off the deck in 1971. It will take that same motivation to make Marshall football prominent again. As history has shown, don't sell the Green and White short.
David Walsh is a sports reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at 304-526-2759 or email@example.com.