'You play to win the game'
HUNTINGTON -- "You play to win the game."
That was an excerpt from an Oct. 30, 2002, press conference conducted by former New York Jets coach Herm Edwards.
It became one of the most famous NFL post-game sound bites of all time.
What many people don't know is that part of the Edwards speech has a significant connection to Marshall University.
The speech occurred as Edwards answered a question following a 24-21 loss to Cleveland that dropped the Jets to 2-5. Following that loss, second-year quarterback Chad Pennington from Marshall led the team to wins in seven of the final nine games and the Jets earned the 2002 AFC East title, which to this day is still the last time the Jets won the division.
"We're sitting there at 2-5 and I told Chad 'You know what, it's your ball,'" Edwards said Friday night at the Big Green Scholarship Foundation fund-raising banquet for Marshall athletes in Cam Henderson Center. "That's a heck of a deal. We're 2-5 and I said 'By the way, you get to be the starting quarterback now.' It wasn't like we were 5-2, we were 2-5. He looks at me and says okay.
"I said "Look Chad. Here's the deal. As much as you want to lead and you want to inspire guys, you've got to win. When you win, they will follow you. We won the division and it was a lot to do with his ability to lead the team."
The phrase became a team slogan of sorts and even became the title of Edwards' book.
Edwards brought those lessons to Marshall as he spoke to the Thundering Herd football team before his banquet appearance.
"Life is about two things: it's about working to make a living, but what you give to make a life," Edwards said. "The folks that have put in money along with their passion for this university speaks loudly."
Edwards' book focuses on leadership on and off the football field, and the former NFL coach was situated between two of Marshall's ultimate leaders in Pennington and former NFL quarterback Byron Leftwich.
It is one thing for professionals to give back by opening up their wallets, but Pennington and Leftwich have opened up their efforts to ensure Marshall continues its rise back to the program's best times by investing themselves to the cause.
Whether it was Leftwich joining his alma mater on the field at the bowl game in Washington, D.C., or Pennington calling Edwards two months ago to convince him to speak at Marshall on his 60th birthday weekend, they are still making plays for the Herd even though their playing days are over.
"They are here for a reason," Edwards said. "Their names are attached to the legacy of this football program."
Edwards spoke to Marshall's football team at 3 p.m. before taking a tour of the facilities.
With the Herd coming off its first 10-win season since Leftwich's senior year of 2002, Edwards spoke to the team about handling success and what comes with it.
"The helmet that has the insignia of 'M' on there for Marshall, that doesn't win games," Edwards said. "Don't think you can walk into the stadium and go 'Oh well, we put our suit on. We're going to walk out here and people are going to fall down because we're Marshall. Don't fall into that trap. Many teams fall into that trap. We see it all the time in professional sports.'
"Success can be a curse if you don't handle it correctly...You have to set your own standard. Don't let the outside forces all of a sudden tell you how good you are because it starts on the practice field in your preparation and how you want to work at it."
Edwards also made sure the team recognized that without the investments made by Big Green donors the overall success of the program would not be possible.
Over the last few years, the efforts to get more community involvement have stepped up just as the play on the field to build the Herd's success, and that was celebrated with Friday night's dinner.
And with Edwards, the numbers of former players returning and the number of Big Green donors in attendance, it appears that Marshall is truly now playing to win the game.
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