HUNTINGTON -- In 1970, Huntington businessman George Lambros was a regular at Cincinnati Bengals, University of Kentucky and Marshall University football games.
The owner of Lambros & Sons clothing store in downtown Huntington had a chance to travel to Greenville, N.C., on Nov. 14 to watch the Marshall Thundering Herd game against at East Carolina, but passed on the gesture by Dr. Ray Hagley and stayed home.
"Dr. Hagley begged me. It was the first jet flight. I had to beg off. Someone had to stay home and work (on Saturday) at the store," Lambros said.
That night the Lambros family was at home on High Drive. After dinner, family members gathered in front of the television. They were stunned when a bulletin flashed on the screen informing viewers about a plane being down at Tri-State Airport in Kenova. After a series of bulletins, the final word came down. The chartered jet bringing the Thundering Herd back from that 17-14 loss to the Pirates crashed short of the runway and all 75 people aboard were killed.
"I'm thinking I was supposed to be on that plane," said Lambros, 75, and now president of the Marshall M Club. "It was just awful. Think about all the families on board that plane. I spent a whole week going to funerals."
Lambros actually had to close his store one day the next week. "Everyone was in shock," he said. "You go to funerals and see moms, dads and wives. It was heart-wrenching. You never get over it."
After the crash, there was talk of Marshall eliminating its football program.
"I'm glad they didn't (drop football)," Lambros said. "We supported them all along. We never gave up hope. We believed one of these days we'd have something."
From 1971 through 1983, the Herd experienced losing season after losing season. Then came 1984 when Marshall beat East Tennessee State, 31-28, to finish 6-5. That started a run of success in the Southern Conference and then the Mid-American Conference. Today, Marshall plays in Conference USA.
"Disheartened? Yes," Lambros said in recalling sitting through those down times. "We hung in there and believed things would change. We needed resources and got them. For what we have, it's like a fairy tale come true.
"I'm real proud of the way the program has come back."