HUNTINGTON - It's a scene that plays out on a near-daily basis.
Tri-State residents and out-of-towners pull into Joan C. Edwards Stadium's West Lot. Many are football fans; a healthy amount couldn't point out the end zone from the 1-yard line. Generations span the gamut.
It's odd that it surprises every single time, but there it is. In what has become equal parts memorial and tourist attraction, people are drawn to the façade outside Edwards Stadium honoring those lost in the 1970 Marshall University football plane crash.
Without a word, many simply approach the brilliant sculpture, camera in hand. Other times, fathers arrive with sons in tow, explaining the story of the most devastating sports tragedy in American history.
Certainly, "We Are Marshall" and "Ashes to Glory" have elevated awareness of a unique football legacy. The former, a Warner Bros. motion picture released last December, now is making the DVD rounds. "Ashes to Glory" told the story earlier this decade in complete, documentary form.
For so long, Marshall ironically was known solely for success. Throughout the 1990s, the Green and White won more games than any college football program, often times on national television.
Kids throughout the nation, even some on the Thundering Herd recruiting radar, were unaware of Nov. 14, 1970.
"Before I came here I really didn't know anything about it," Marshall junior free safety C.J. Spillman said. "I saw about it on TV with stories on ESPN. But coming here and getting educated through (Herd head) coach (Mark) Snyder during preseason camp my freshman year, showing us the video and showing us what went on, how it affected everybody, it's really enlightened me.
"It's just educated me on a topic I was unaware of."
Snyder, like Bobby Pruett and other coaches before him, assures that players are well aware of what they represent. Current and former student-athletes will attend today's annual Memorial Student Center service.
New Conference USA rivals have taken notice, as well. Curiosity from visiting administrators and media regularly has accompanied Thundering Herd home games this season.
Marshall's football season continues Saturday at Houston and concludes the following weekend at home against UAB. Edwards Stadium hardly will shut down, however, with visitors snapping their shots of history and sharing stories of triumph from tragedy.
"In order to feel the affect you had to be here," Spillman said. "The movie showed people, educated people, but to get the real affect of what really went on and what happened in this community you had to be here."
Anthony Hanshew covers Marshall football for The Herald-Dispatch. He can be reached at 526-2766. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.