Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Remembering Blevins: Number 80 is forever 20

        I can't really recall my last memory of Dennis Blevins, the junior wide receiver from Bluefield, West Virginia. Blevins perished along with 74 others in the Marshall football plane crash. Even after all this time, the crash is still widely acknowledged as the most tragic accident in the history of sports.
Brooks was a freshman at
Marshall University at the
time of the plane crash.
       While that final recollection evades me, etched in my mind is my encounter with Dennis on the first day that I stepped on Marshall University's campus in August of 1970. Out to tour the grounds, I, along with my friend and fellow Bluefield native Joseph Bundy found ourselves walking toward a group of football players who were congregated adjacent to the South Hall dormitory.
       Dennis turned around and broke out with a huge smile. He came over and put his arms around us and exclaimed, "My home boys!" That was such a great feeling, but you'd have to know Dennis to understand why.
       Although Dennis was only two years older, he was both an icon and an idol among those of us in Bluefield who had athletic aspirations. Unlike me who attended predominately white Central Junior High School and Bluefield High School, Dennis attended all-black Genoa Junior High School and Park Central High School. In Bluefield, everyone attended all of the games no matter where one was enrolled in school.
       Dennis excelled in every sport. In 1968, he earned Class AA All-State honors in football, basketball, and track and was offered a football scholarship to Marshall University. Had there been high school baseball at that time, Dennis would have been All-State in that sport as well.
       However, despite his achievements, Pete Wood, a terrific running back from my high school who had earned Class AAA honors, and who went on to star at West Virginia University, was named Athlete of the Year by a veteran, local sports reporter who covered high school and college sports in West Virginia. While I was both a friend and a fan of Pete on the gridiron, everyone knew that Dennis Blevins was the "real" athlete in terms of overall ability. I’m sure that Pete realized it too. Had Dennis played for Bluefield High, there's no doubt that he would have been offered scholarships to higher profile institutions.
       On the evening of November 14, 1970, I was in my Twin Towers dorm room listening to the radio. In the middle of a song, the announcer interrupted to deliver the sobering news that the plane believed to be carrying the Marshall University football team had crashed while attempting to land at Tri-State Airport.
       My first thought was of Dennis. Dazed by the news, what transpired during the remainder of that evening remains a blur in my mind. Others who attended Marshall with me and were there on that horrible night have more vivid memories.
       I do have clarity with regard to the funerals and the memorial services that were so emotional that it really can't be put into words. I didn't know any of the boosters or coaches who lost their lives. However, I did have contact with a majority of the players. There were so many great guys on that flight, virtually all of whom had tremendous futures in front of them.
       For me, Dennis Blevins will always stand out because of the kind of guy he was and the warmth that he always exhibited toward me. Dennis wore jersey number 80, but as long as I live, he will always be the 20 year old man— my "home boy"—who I liked and admired.

Lawson Brooks

Lawson Brooks is an independent consultant, writer, and radio talk show host who lives in Washington, DC. His first novel From The Waist Up is available at numerous retail outlets. The Lawson Brooks Show airs on Saturdays at on blog talk radio.


  1. Marguerite OestreicherTuesday, September 06, 2011

    Read November Ever After over the weekend. It was a very compelling read!

  2. Congratulations Craig! You did it! I cannot wait to read it.

  3. Another good story.

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