HUNTINGTON -- Marshall University's football program turned out in muted force Monday afternoon, linking the present to an unforgettable past.
Marshall honored the 75 people lost in the Nov. 14, 1970, plane crash under gray skies on the 35th anniversary of America's worst sports catastrophe. Previous ceremonies always included a strong Thundering Herd football presence, but this year's celebration of life included all involved -- players, coaches, trainers and support staff.
Head coach Mark Snyder embraces his football program's unique legacy from many perspectives. He's a Tri-State native of Ironton who helped spark the Herd's full-circle turn as a player and is now charged with educating the current generation of student-athletes. In 1987, Snyder the player provided a long-suffering community reason to celebrate. He earned All-American honors as a playmaking safety, helping lead the Herd to the NCAA Division I-AA national championship game.
Snyder said he can't guess how many fans and community leaders thanked members of the 1987 Thundering Herd for their championship run.
"And that's why our players were here today, and our trainers and our managers, everybody associated with our football program," Snyder said. "I remember (against) Weber State (in the '87 playoffs) when they started doing the wave around Fairfield Stadium, and I remember looking down at (Marshall golf coach) Joe Feaganes and a few of those guys crying.
"It was a special time and we're benefiting from how. ... this community has a passion for this university and I've seen it growing up."
Like Snyder, Shannon Morrison has experienced the annual plane crash ceremony both as a player and coach. His 30-something perspective is admittedly a bit more complete compared to 10 years ago when he was a Thundering Herd safety.
"When you're a player you don't really think into the context of how much it affected the community, at least for me, but when you get older you see how the community was affected," Morrison said. "I didn't realize as much when I was a student. But the more I'm around the more I come to these, the older I get, I see the overall picture better and better."
"You're more than a football player. There's more involved because of what happened."
Marshall players will wear commemorative decals on their helmets during Saturday's game against East Carolina. Kickoff at Joan C. Edwards Stadium is 4:30 p.m., culminating a week-long tribute to the men and women who died on approach to Tri-State Airport.
"I don't think anybody around here needs a decal for this commemorative weekend but it's a chance for us to showcase it to the nation, how far we've come," Snyder said.
Thundering Herd quarterback Jimmy Skinner and virtually every teammate attended Monday's ceremony. Snyder repeatedly tells his players that "with tradition comes responsibility," a saying that's not lost on his junior signal-caller.
"It's a different perspective than most teams have," Skinner said. "We're playing for something special. We've got 75 people up in heaven looking down on us. When we put that green jersey on we know we're playing for something more than ourselves."
Joan C. Edwards Stadium will be filled with emotion during Saturday's fitting matchup. Marshall was returning from a 17-14 loss at East Carolina when its chartered DC-9 jetliner crashed.
"History is interesting," Snyder said. "I think it will definitely give the community an extra boost. I don't think there's any question."