HUNTINGTON -- Lively conversations have been happening on The Herald-Dispatch forums, and plenty of e-mails have poured in asking questions about what really happened in the true story of "We Are Marshall."
The Warner Bros. Pictures film tells the story of the Marshall University football team after a 1970 plane crash that killed all 75 people aboard, including most of the team members, staff and many fans. Here is a fact vs. fiction Q&A.
Q: Did Marshall really have a difficult time recruiting players, and were they really competing with West Virginia University?
A: Yes, said former Marshall head football coach Jack Lengyel. Many of the players they attempted to recruit did in fact end up as Mountaineers as the movie showed, he said.
"We never saw it that way, as an obstacle. We just looked at it as an opportunity to build," Lengyel said. "We lost a lot of players. WVU got some, and then other schools got some. ... But there were a lot of players who accepted our challenge."
The coaching staff did get creative with recruits, as Matthew McConaughey suggests in the movie, using several basketball players and at least once soccer player to fill the roster.
Q: How did people really know it was the Marshall plane?
A: Ernie Salvatore and Jack Hardin recall how they found out it was the Marshall plane that had crashed differently than how the movie portrayed.
The film showed a firefighter finding a playbook with the Marshall logo on the outside.
"Somebody came up to me and handed me somebody's billfold, a team member's," said Hardin, who was a senior reporter for The Herald-Dispatch and on the scene shortly after the crash. "Then I knew what it was and who it was."
Salvatore, who was the executive sports editor for the Huntington newspapers at the time of the crash, recalls Hardin using a radio device to ask if the name "John Young" meant anything to those in the newsroom.
"And I said 'yeah.' He's an end, sophomore, he caught a touchdown pass a few weeks ago," Salvatore said. "And then we knew it was the Marshall plane. You won't see that in the movie, and I'm not knocking the movie, but that's the way we knew it was the Marshall plane."
Q: Are all of the characters portrayed in the movie real people?
A: No. While most of the characters in the film were real, several composite characters were used to tell the stories of many community members touched by the crash without overwhelming the audience.
"We did two (main) composite characters and the reason we did that is because there were so many people," said screenwriter Jamie Linden. One of the main composite characters was "Paul Griffen" played by Ian McShane, who worked in the steel mill and had a son on the 1970 football team who died in the crash. The other was "Annie Cantrell," played by Kate Mara, who was a cheerleader and engaged to Griffen's son.
"All of those stories need to be told," Linden said. "I couldn't look them in the eye and say, 'We are going to take you over you.' Hopefully everyone will see the story and go, 'That's me and I am a part of that.' "
Q: Did Coach Lengyel actually say the line, "The funerals end today."?
A: Yes, but not exactly the way the film showed.
Matthew McConaughey has an inspirational scene in the Spring Hill Cemetery at the graves of six players who could not be identified after the crash. Lengyel said he took his team to that site before every season to help the newer players understand the team's history.
"The new players didn't know the story. They didn't know the magnitude of the tragedy," he said. "This was to help them understand the magnitude if this tragedy and what role they needed to play in the future to build the foundation for the future generations of Marshall football."
Lengyel said this was a "private moment" for the team, which traditionally happened at 6 a.m. before the first game of the year with only the team, coaching staff and team managers there.
McConaughey uses the phrase, "The funerals end today," but Lengyel said he had to make that known not only to the players but to the schools the team played. Each time the team traveled, the school would have a memorial for Marshall, but Lengyel said the team couldn't continue and grow under those conditions.
Q: Did they really chant "We Are ... Marshall?"
A: While "We are ... Marshall" is famous in Huntington, and now has the potential to be known throughout the nation, the chant was not used in 1970 or 1971.
"The 'We are ... Marshall' chant was never a part of our game," Lengyel said. "It came later, but it's very appropriate for the movie.
"It's a statement that ties 'we' and everybody in the town, the community, the football team together. It ties the whole people together."
Q: How accurate was the Marshall game against Xavier University?
A: The Marshall University football team beat Xavier University on Sept. 25, 1971, at Fairfield Stadium. The final score was 15-13.
The final play in the movie was a crossing route, where the Young Thundering Herd actually called a screen pass for a 13 yard touchdown to take the win.
"I was at the game in 1971 when Marshall beat Xavier," said Dave Wellman, director of communications at Marshall. "In the movie, it seemed kind of strange how everyone was out on the field in the dark. People were in the stands crying. I can't even explain how emotional it was. People stayed in the stands."
Q: Is Nate Ruffin really buried at the memorial with the unidentified players as shown toward the end of the movie?
A: Ruffin played football at Marshall University from 1968 through 1971 and served as captain of the Young Thundering Herd in 1971. He died in October 2001 at age 51 and is buried at Spring Hill Cemetery next to six players who died in the crash whose bodies could not be identified and former Marshall assistant athletic director Ed Starling.
Q: Was the Marshall v. Xavier game filmed at Fairfield Stadium?
A: Marshall played its last game in Fairfield Stadium in November 1990. The new stadium opened in September of 1991. Fairfield continued to be used by the old Huntington High School and Huntington East High School football teams until the two schools consolidated in fall 1996.
Fairfield Stadium's field was paved in May 1998 to be used as a parking lot. In November 2004, demolition of the stadium began to make way for Marshall's Clinical Education and Outreach Center, so it was gone by the time the movie's filming began. Warner Bros. Productions used the Herndon Stadium on the Morris Brown College campus in Atlanta for the scenes.
Q: What restaurant was the diner "Boone's" based on?
A: Screenwriter Jamie Linden wrote the following: "Ah, Jim's. It was Jim's through every early draft of the script. But the characters of Paul Griffen and Annie Cantrell were a bit fluid, since they were our composite elements. At one point, as a means of shortening the script, we changed the character of Paul Griffen to make him the owner of the restaurant. But I didn't want to imply that Jim Tweel was ever against Marshall football coming back, so we made the restaurant 'Paul's.' A few weeks before production, McG came back to Huntington, visited the steel mill, and fell in love with it, so we changed Paul to a steel executive. We were so close to shooting that we couldn't make any serious character changes. Hence, the owner role went to previously existing booster Lloyd Boone, and the restaurant, for better or worse, became Boone's. We all wanted to call it Jim's. Logistically, we just ran out of time.
But I love Jimmie, and I love their spaghetti. It'll always be Jim's to me."
Q: Was Marshall's team really without the help of an athletic director?
A: No. Before Jack Lengyel was hired to be head coach, Joe McMullen was appointed as the new AD in February of 1971. McMullen was a former assistant under Joe Paterno at Penn State and a head coach for twelve years. McMullen knew Lengyel through their connection at the University of Akron.
Q: Was Jack Lengyel really the first coach hired for the position?
A: No. Georgia Tech assistant coach Dick Bestwick was the first who was hired to replace head coach Rick Tolley. But he changed his mind after two days and returned to Georgia Tech.