On November 11th, 1970, while returning home from a 17-14 loss against the East Carolina Pirates, Southern Airways Flight 932, carrying 75 members of the Marshall University football team, coaching staff, and boosters crashed into the hills outside of Kenova, West Virginia, killing everyone aboard. It is often referred to as one of the worst sports tragedies to ever happen.
The remainder of the 1970 season was canceled and both a community and a university struggled with how to move on. Serious thought was given in late 1970 by then acting President Donald Dedmon to cancel the football program entirely. However, the student body and the fans of the Thundering Herd were not so ready to give up just yet.
Marshall University hired Jack Lengyel in March of 1971 to replace Rick Tolley and with the intention of fielding a team for the 1971 season. With Red Dawson at his side, Lengyel fielded the "Young Thundering Herd", a mishmash of first year players, walk-ons, and nine players who did not make the trip to ECU. Lead by its captain, Nate Ruffin, the Young Thundering Herd lost its opening game of the 1971 season but then went on to defeat Xavier University, in miraculous fashion, 15-13 in its first home game since the crash. The Young Thundering Herd only went on to win one more game that year and only 9 during the Lengyel era but the university and the program thundered forward.
The Thundering Herd went on to become a force in college football. While at the then I-AA level, Marshall captured two national championships (1992 & 1996). Even after moving up to the I-A level, Marshall continued to have success with multiple bowl game victories, MAC Conference Championships, and NFL Draft successes.
The Marshall story, for most people, is just that - a story. For members of the Marshall family and member of the Huntington community its much more. It is about remembrance and fortitude. At a time when the easiest thing to do would be to fold up shop and not continue, the student body, the university, and the community forged ahead to continue on.
Sons and daughters of Marshall everywhere paused on 11/14 to remember those lost to the tragedy and to remember where we have risen from.