Friday, January 27, 2012

Return to Fairfield Stadium had a strange feel to it

       In the days leading up to the start of spring football practice in ’71, I never thought about what it would feel like to run onto the field at Fairfield Stadium as a football player. It had been about eighteen months since I last played for Marshall. I left after the ’69 season and had settled in as a regular student at the time of the 1970 plane crash. A few months after the November tragedy, I decided to rejoin the team for spring drills.
       By the time of my return, Fairfield had undergone a much-needed facelift. Before being refurbished, the field was littered with potholes and deep divots with a quarter-mile gravel track that encircled the field. The new-look Fairfield was now modernized with half-inch-thick Astro-Turf, which was the rage of that era in college football.
       That first day of spring practice felt so weird. As I trotted down the ramp from the locker room to go on the field, I couldn’t help but think about the guys who died in the crash. It wasn’t a recurring memory, but it was certainly a memory that nobody would ever forget. Thirteen of the thirty-seven players who died in the crash first came to Marshall in ’68, and I was part of that group. Had it not been for the crash, most of that crew from the undefeated ’68 freshman team would have been rising seniors.
       Standing at ground level on the artificial turf provided a much different look from what people could see from the stands. The first thing I noticed was this very noticeable crown in the middle of the field. The crown was necessary so that when it rained, the field would drain properly. To me, this looked so strange.
        Because I played safety, I lined up near the center of the field most of the time. Visually, it was easy to see that – because of the crown – the new Fairfield was not a level playing surface. Depending on the direction of a given play, you’d run slightly uphill or slightly downhill. It took some getting used to, but I eventually got acclimated.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sportscaster reflects on "We are ... Marshall" chant

       Editor’s Note: I recently received the following comments written in response to one of my blog entries about the “We Are Marshall!” chant which is featured prominently in the movie. No such chant existed at the time of the 1970 plane crash. Even so, the chant is not pure fantasy. It is a real chant, so I stand corrected.

Craig,
       This isn’t the first time I’ve heard that the “We Are Marshall” chant is a myth. The truth is that the chant came several years after the crash.
       That chant didn’t start until the mid-1980s at Fairfield Stadium. Then it really took off in 1991. The scoreboard at the new stadium would show flashing arrows which prompted each side as to which part of the chant to shout.
       The unfortunate thing is that Warner Brothers based its marketing of the movie on the premise of “This is a true story.” But because of the other “Hollywood minutes” in the film, including the game-winning touchdown (which didn’t happen that way in the actual Xavier-Marshall game), the movie should have been promoted as “based on a true story.”
       The “We Are Marshall” chant when bellowed with such fervor by Thundering Herd fans, is part of what MU is all about. You, me, the 1970 team, the Young Thundering Herd, the fans—we are all Marshall University.
       The movie scene (where students congregate in front of an on-campus administration building) is historically incorrect. But that scene did accurately portray the emotions and feelings in 1971 that Marshall should continue to play football and never forget about those who lost their lives.
       It was a long time ago and I was there in the mid-to-late 1970s for the second wave of "why pour money into a program that can never win?" Outside the MU football program, more people were beginning to agree with that line of thinking.
       But not at Marshall.
       And that was because "We are … Marshall!"

-Woody Woodrum

Woody Woodrum is the co-host for Insider Sportsline, a daily sports talk radio show on WRVC Super Talk 94.1 FM/930 AM in Huntington, West Virginia. He is also senior editor for Herd Insider.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Alumnus: What "We are ... Marshall" means to me

Editor’s Note: Below is an email message written in response to my recent blog entry about the WAM (We Are … Marshall) chant being a myth. It was non-existent at the time of the 1970 plane crash. The chant, however, is not a product of Hollywood fiction. So, I stand corrected on that. The chant is not a myth. Here’s the issue I’ve always had about the chant and the movie. The time period when the chant was used in the movie, didn’t match the true timeline of when the chant became prominent in real life.

Craig,
       I agree with you that the "We are .... Marshall" chant did not occur during "our" time at Marshall. But the chant did become popular before the movie came out (2006). Furthermore, I associated the chant with the resurgence of Marshall University Thundering Herd football.
       I believe that the chant became popular at Herd football games during the 1990’s. I returned to Huntington (West Virginia) for Marshall’s Homecoming weekend every year during the 1990’s and each year I attended the football game. The reason I associate the chant with the resurgence of MU football is an experience that Nate Ruffin shared with me. (Ruffin missed the fatal flight because of an injury and he was the captain of the '71 Young Thundering Herd).
       The year was 1999, and Marshall went on the road to play powerful Clemson on its home turf known as "Death Valley." The Herd beat 13-10. At the time, Clemson's home field -- Memorial Stadium -- had a seating capacity of about 81,500.
       Nate described the following scene:
       The stadium is quiet. A relatively small group of Marshall fans sit in one end zone and another small group of Herd faithful sit in the opposite end zone. The chant broke out from one end zone: "We are ...  The group sitting in the other end zone responded: "Marr-shall1!"
       I was not at that game, but I can still remember Nate sharing that story. Whenever I hear the "We are Marshall" chant, that's the memory I have.
       As you know, I was a freshman at Marshall when the crash occurred. I was part of the "Homegoing Caravan." And I participated in the football game between Black United Students and Kappa Alpha fraternity. I played safety and was personally tutored by you on the art of playing the position. Since I was at that game, I did witness the fight on Friday the 13th (the day before the plane crash).
       This was a time of my life that I will never forget. I was glad that the movie We Are Marshall came out. I am even more ecstatic that you wrote November Ever After because I have never been able to explain the passion I have for Marshall University Thundering Herd football.
       I just wanted to share what "We are ... Marshall" means to me.
- Robert Walker 
 Robert Walker is a Marshall University graduate. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Greenlee is featured guest on radio program

       For Craig T. Greenlee, the night of November 14, 1970 will always be etched in memory. It was an unforgettable night. Marshall University’s football team was involved in a plane crash that killed most the team.
       Greenlee will join host Calvin Patterson on the radio program Empowering YOU! to give his personal insights about the tragedy. The half-hour program will air tonight (January 23) at 7 o’clock on WSNC-FM 90.5.
       At the time of the plane crash, Greenlee was a college student at Marshall. But deeper still, he was a former teammate who played defensive back for the Thundering Herd for two seasons. He left the team for personal reasons a year before the tragedy. He knew most the players who died, which included his best friend Scottie Reese..
       “The Marshall plane crash was a horrific event,” Greenlee said. “But it’s also a historical event. That time period in my life is forever memorable. This is a story that educates, enlightens and inspires.”
       Tonight’s interview will be available on the world-wide web as a live stream broadcast at the WSNC web site
       Click on “Listen to WSNC Online” and choose from the following formats: mp3, iPhone, Android and Blackberry.
       WSNC is a National Public Radio affiliate station located on the campus of Winston-Salem State University (North Carolina).

Sunday, January 22, 2012

1971: "Supreme sacrifice for the impossible dream"

         I doubt if anybody would’ve been shocked if Marshall had gone winless in ’71—the season right after the plane crash. The Young Thundering Herd gave a much-better-than-expected accounting of itself with an eyebrow-raising 2-8 won-loss record.
        In a season where not a whole lot went right very often, Marshall was able to generate some excitement with heart-stopping victories over Xavier University and Bowling Green State University. The Xavier game stands out the most because it was a last-play-of-the-game touchdown that gave the Herd the 15-13 victory.
       But upon further review, the 12-10 win over Bowling Green on MU’s Homecoming Day was even more impressive. The Falcons were prime contenders in the Mid-American Conference that year and viewed as one of the favorites to win the MAC and earn a trip to the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, Florida.
      Other than that, the Herd suffered its share of whippings, which included a 66-6 beat-down defeat at the hands of Miami of Ohio.
       Coach Jack Lengyel put the season in its proper perspective in an article he wrote for the 1972 Chief Justice yearbook. Here are some excerpts from that article.       
       “It was not just a football season, it went deeper than that,” Lengyel wrote. “Football is just a game. But the things which make it up are what make it great. IT was all of us playing … we all had a share in it. This team asked no quarter, but was willing to make the supreme sacrifice for the impossible dream.”

Saturday, January 21, 2012

MU chant made popular by moviemakers is a myth


      We are … Marshall!
       We are … Marshall!
       We are … Marshall!

       That chant reverberates throughout the 2006 film about the Marshall University football plane crash and its aftermath. The chant, which is also the movie’s title, is catchy and memorable. Those who have seen the movie are inspired by the cinematic account of how a school and a city managed to regroup and rebuild in the days and months following the worst airplane tragedy in the history of American sports.
       There’s one problem, though.
       The chant, while heart-stirring and inspiring, is the product of Hollywood insistence on taking the phrase "artistic license" to whole new level. Back in the day, no such chant existed. I should know. I was there. I played football for the Thundering Herd in ’68 and ’69, so I knew most of the players who were killed in the ’70 crash.
       In other words, the chant is pure fiction.
       Marshall did have a chant back in the day, but it didn’t sound anything like what Warner Brothers would have viewers to believe. I’ll repeat here, but not in its entirety because the actual chant from that era had profanity in it.

       Marshall, Marshall who are we. Best ­­______ team in the M-A-C!

      The “who are we” chant became obsolete in ’70 because Herd football had been ravaged by a recruiting scandal. Among the damaging side-effects and was heaving scrutiny by the NCAA and indefinite suspension from the MAC (Mid-American Conference).
       So, what’s the big deal? This isn’t anything new. Hollywood does it all the time.
       I agree, but that doesn’t make it OK—especially since Warner Brothers trumpeted the We Are Marshall film as a totally accurate reflection of the truth.
       Here are a few examples:
  • One of the movie’s opening scenes involves MU head coach Rick Tolley talking to the team prior to the Herd’s return trip from its road game against East Carolina. Tolley gives an encouraging speech then calls everybody together and they collectively chant “We Are Marshall!” Never happened.
  • An overflow crowd of Marshall students congregate in front of an administration building to let MU decision-makers know that they are not in favor of the school dropping football. They repeat the chant in unison as a show of solidarity. This scene is bogus. Pure fantasy.
        The insertion of a fictional chant for this particular movie works well in terms of cinema. But what I’ve always had a problem with is that the actual story is good enough that it doesn’t need to be altered in any way.
       In the archives of the Herald-Dispatch (WV) newspaper, Jack Lengyel, who coached at Marshall in the years immediately following the crash, admitted that the movie chant was non-existent at that time. “The We are ... Marshall chant was never a part of our game," he said. "It came later, but it's very appropriate for the movie.”
       It may be appropriate for the movie. But it’s not appropriate for the truth.
       For those of us who were on the scene back in the day, the truth matters very much. It matters because it’s the best way to pay homage to those who perished.
 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Author: "There was a lot of denial for many of us"

 By Alianna Telles
The Parthenon      

Editor's Note: On the forty-first anniversary of the 1970 Marshall football plane crash, the school’s student newspaper, The Parthenon, published a commemorative issue in recognition of the seventy-five people who perished. For this issue, MU journalism student Alianna Telles was assigned to write a feature story on Craig T. Greenlee, the author of the memoir November Ever After. Here’s the article in its entirety.

       November 14, 1970 marks the darkest day in Marshall University history — the Marshall plane crash. That night, the university and community lost seventy-five members of the Marshall Thundering Herd. Craig T. Greenlee is one of many who have their own story to tell about it.
The author played football for two seasons at Marshall.
       Greenlee's story began in 1968 when he came to Marshall to play free safety for the Herd. He played for two years before deciding to quit because it just wasn't for him. "I really didn't want to play the game anymore," Greenlee said. "It's the type of game where you really have to have the passion to play because if you don’t, you might end up hurt."
       After leaving the team, Greenlee never had second thoughts about coming back. He had changed his major to journalism and enjoyed the switch. "I was really having a ball with it," Greenlee said. "I just really didn't miss it (the game) at all."
       Then the plane crash occurred, changing everything for Greenlee and the entire university community. "I never considered the idea that there would be fatalities," Greenlee said. "I just kept thinking in my mind that it crashed, but I didn't think that everybody would be gone. I just never considered it."
       Greenlee remembers that night. He also remembers that there were a lot of  people who drove out to the crash site near the airport. He wasn't one of them. "I remember people going out there, but I didn't want to go out there because I wanted to remember the people the last way I saw them," Greenlee said. "I didn't want to see anything else."
       "A week later when I went to my best friend Scottie Reese's funeral, it didn't really hit me until I was sitting there in the church, looking at the casket and seeing the jersey on top of it. I had just realized he was gone and that it had all really happened."
       Though Greenlee had many with whom to share his grief, he didn't really vocalize it to anyone. "There was a lot of denial for many of us. We just really didn't talk much about it, or in some cases didn’t talk about it all because a lot of us really didn't know how to," he said. "A lot of us suffered silently and never really verbalized anything we felt about the plane crash. We just internalized it all."
       In the spring of 1971, when the university started to rebuild the football program, Greenlee decided to rejoin the team and become a part of the rebuilding process. "It was the right thing and the only thing to do," Greenlee said. "They didn't have anybody but the people who were left behind."
       Greenlee was the starting safety for the Thundering Herd in the spring of ’71. But a few weeks before the start of the ‘71 season, he decided it was time for him to leave the game for good. During the rest of his time at Marshall, Greenlee never really talked about the events surrounding the crash.
       "It's kind of like being a soldier in combat. Most of the time, they don't really talk about what happens on the battlefield," he said. "They just don't talk about it. It's just the fact that you don't want to relive it in any way, shape or form. Mainly you keep it to yourself."
       But now, Greenlee is finally telling his story through his new book, “November Ever After." The book tells the story of his time at Marshall and the decisions he made after the crash. While interviewing people for the book, Greenlee was able to learn so much more about that dark day.
       "Some people remember parts of it differently," Greenlee said. "There are just so many things I haven't really thought about until I started writing and interviewing people. The most amazing thing that happened was that whoever I interviewed would say something that I had never heard before."
       Before writing the book, Greenlee made his first ever visit to the plane crash memorial at Spring Hill Cemetery. He wanted to know more of the details that he purposely overlooked at the time of the crash.
       "That was the hardest thing about it because when it happened there was only so much I wanted to know," Greenlee said. "By going back, it forced me to look at some things and have a better understanding of them."
       Greenlee now lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina with his wife Cynthia. He still visits his alma mater whenever he can.


Alianna Telles can be contacted at telles@marshall.edu.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Coming Monday: author interview to air on WSNC

       The tragedy that befell Marshall University on November 14, 1970 is well known and will be a forever fascinating part of college football history. But what’s been revealed up until now contains a number of missing links.
       Craig T.Greenlee’s newly-released November Ever After fills that void; with the details only a seasoned journalist could dig up, and with the reverence only someone personally touched by the tragedy could deliver.
       Greenlee, a former defensive back at Marshall, discusses his memoir with host Calvin Patterson on the radio talk show Empowering YOU. The half-hour program will air on Monday, January 23 at 7 p.m. on WSNC-FM 90.5. The program will be available on the Internet as a live stream broadcast. Go to the WSNC web site click on “Listen to WSNC Live Online”, then choose from the following listening formats: mp3, iPhone, Android or Blackberry.
       Here's a sampling of what Patterson and Greenlee will talk about:.
  • Significance of the plane crash;
  • The racial climate on Marshall’s campus and the impact of the tragedy on race relations;
  • The author’s satisfaction in accurately portraying aspects of the Marshall tragedy that have never been addressed -- until now.
        Tune in on Monday night and discover more about November Ever After. It’s a story whose time has finally come. WSNC is a National Public Radio affiliate located on the campus of Winston-Salem State University (North Carolina).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wal-Mart encounter proved to be an eye-opener

      It was around Christmas time of 2006 when I started digging for more information about the Marshall plane crash. My research findings would be used for a long feature I had been assigned to do by the Winston-Salem Journal (NC) daily newspaper.
       As things turned out, the feature was never published. But that was just fine with me. The material I had already put together proved to be the beginning of what eventually became the memoir November Ever After, which was released last fall.
       Among the various episodes that I’ll always remember about writing my book involved a personal  encounter at a Wal-Mart in Winston-Salem. I made what I thought was going to be a quick stop at the DVD racks. A couple of DVD documentaries that I had never seen before caught my eye (Remembering Marshall produced by ESPN; and Return of the Thundering Herd by Warner Brothers).
       As I read the promotional print on the back of each DVD case, a middle-aged man who I didn’t know, approached me and started talking. The subject matter he addressed was hardly idle conversation about the movie We Are Marshall, which was scheduled for its nationwide debut showing around that time.
       The guy never introduced himself. He just started talking specifics about the time he visited Huntington, West Virginia. Don’t know if this was a combination or irony or coincidence, but he talked about what he could see from the air when his plane came in at Tri-State Airporta few days after the crash. He even provided detailed descriptions of what he saw of the crash scene. At the time of his visit, the clean-up crews had not finished their work at the crash site.
       All the time this man talked, I listened and said nothing. I didn’t know what to say. In the meantime, my mind kept trying to come up with a plausible explanation as to why this man decided to tell me—a stranger—about his visit. He had no way of knowing that I had any kind of personal connection to the tragedy. I wasn’t wearing anything with Marshall University on it. Even now, it still blows my mind as to how and why this guy approached me and spoke in such great detail.
    

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"I don't need to relive that period again and again"

Angela Dodson
The Emmy Award-winning documentary Ashes to Glory debuted to rave reviews in 2000. The film about the 1970 Marshall University plane crash inspired viewers. But for many people like MU alumna Angela Dodson, it would take several years after the documentary’s release before they could muster up enough nerve to watch a film that revived so many hurtful memories. Dodson is a free-lance writer, editor and consultant. At the time of tragedy, Dodson was a sophomore who majored in journalism.

Q: Did the film meet your expectations?
A. Yes, I guess so. But I feel it had a blind spot to the black students, especially non-athletes and administrators like Ed Starling—the gap you filled with your book [November Ever After].
Q: Will you watch it again?
A. Probably not because I now know what’s in it, and I don’t need to relive that period again and again. I do watch We Are Marshall repeats on TV, and I own the movie too. I took my family to see it the first week it was out. My husband kept asking me after various scenes, “Did that really happen?” I had to keep saying, “No” or “I don’t think so.” Maybe it’s easier to watch because I know so much of it isn’t real. With the documentary, it’s all too real.

Angela Dodson's take on the memoir November Ever After

Monday, January 16, 2012

News article prompted decision to write my story

        A few days prior to the debut showing of the movie We Are Marshall (2006), I read a newspaper article that eventually led to me to write the memoir November Ever After.
       The article was about the Marshall plane crash recollections of Jim Grobe, the head football coach at Wake Forest University. Coach Grobe grew up in Barboursville, West Virginia, a suburb of Huntington, which is where MU is located. At the time of the crash, Grobe was in his first year at Ferrum Junior College in Virginia. Grobe later served as a Marshall assistant coach under Sonny Randle (1979-83).
       Coach Grobe’s wife, Holly, grew up in Huntington. Her best friend, Kathy Heath, lost both her parents who were passengers on the DC-9 jet that crashed and killed all seventy-five people on board. Emmett and Elaine Heath were avid supporters of Marshall Athletics.
       The Grobes have an undeniable connection to the tragedy. But when I started thinking about it, it occurred to me that as a former teammate who knew most of the players on that plane, I could be as good a source about the Marshall story as anyone.
       Initially, I considered doing a television interview, but I changed my mind. A sound bite on nightly TV news doesn’t lend itself to very much in-depth discussion. That’s when I decided to approach my local newspaper (Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina). I really thought that one of the staff writers would interview me about my take on the tragedy. Instead, the sports editor (Terry Oberle) asked me to write a lengthy feature article using a first-person narrative style.
       The feature was done sometime in January 2007, but was still unpublished after about a year. At that juncture, it became clear to me that I needed to take a different path. By March of 2008, it finally occurred to me that I had a viable story that should be published as a book.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

What if Herd had opted to drop football program?

       There’s no way to tell what life might have been like if Marshall University had dropped football after the November 14, 1970 plane crash. Personally, I never envisioned the school ever making such a move.
       This is really speculation on my part. But I’ve always believed that the MU administration and the people of Huntington, West Virginia would not have allowed it.
Even though Thundering Herd football was a losing proposition at that point in time, it was clear that there was enough funding available from somewhere to keep the program financially viable.
       After all, that’s why the school courted Perry Moss and brought him to town in the late ‘60s to ride herd on the Herd. Even though there was a recruiting scandal that caused the Mid-American Conference to expel MU and it cost Moss his job, the commitment to field a team didn’t diminish in the years following that scandal.
       It seems to me that there are plenty of cases in which schools that drop football eventually desire to revive the sport. Case in point—Wichita State University.
       There’s a kindred connection between Marshall and Wichita State. Both schools suffered devastating losses in plane crashes which occurred six weeks apart in 1970. Both schools continued to field teams, but the Shockers eventually eliminated the sport in 1986 as a cost-cutting measure for their athletics department.
       Wichita State hasn’t played the game since then. But down through the years, there have been public outcries to restore the sport. Some interested parties put together a website to help gauge the level of interest in having Wichita State back on the gridiron. So far—twenty-six years later—there is still no football.
       This makes me wonder if that would be the case had Marshall made the choice to give football the ax. We’ll never know for sure. We should be thankful that Marshall football still exists, that it remains alive and vibrant today. The Marshall program is the same program that survived the worst aviation disaster in the history of American sports. It’s a program that has suffered through despair and agony, but is now enjoying the fruits of gridiron glory and bowl game victories.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

NFL legend never got call about coaching vacancy

        In the months following the plane crash, there was some uncertainty as to who would take over as the new head coach for Marshall University’s depleted football program.     
Sam Huff
       Bob Phillips, an assistant at Penn State was the school’s No. 1 pick, but he declined the job offer. Next came Dick Bestwick, who was the freshman coach at Georgia Tech. Initially, Bestwick accepted the job, but reneged on his promise two days later and returned to Atlanta.
       In the meantime, Sam Huff made it known publicly that he was very interested in the position. As an NFL Hall of Fame legend and native West Virginian, Huff had the aura and name recognition to help the Thundering Herd attract and sign its share of blue-chip athletes. Considering that the program was virtually starting from scratch, having Sam Huff as head coach would give Marshall a significant advantage in the recruiting wars for the nation’s top football talent.
       As things turned out, visions of Huff pacing the sidelines for the Herd proved to be nothing but fantasy. It really was too good to be true. Huff, an All-America during his college days at WVU, was never granted a job interview.
       One can only speculate as to why Marshall never gave Huff a call. We’ll never know what might have happened if athletics director Joe McMullen had hired Huff. One might assume that great things would have happened in a relatively short period of time. But on the other hand, the opposite could have transpired.
        That was the case for Sonny Randle, who played ten pro seasons (1959-68) and still ranks 12th on the NFL’s all-time list for touchdown receptions per game. Randle coached at Marshall from ’79-’83 and never had a winning season (39-69-1).

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday the 13th and the Marshall air tragedy

      Strange but true.
       There’s a bizarre connection between a well-known day of superstition and the Marshall plane crash of November 14, 1970. In the days leading up to the Thundering Herd’s road trip to East Carolina, there was an undeniable feeling of uneasiness among some of MU’s football players. They weren’t at all comfortable in having to leave town on a Friday the 13th.
       In the interviews I conducted for November Ever After, there were instances in which I learned that some of the players were fearful about their upcoming flight. Dickie Carter—a running back that quit the team a few weeks prior to the crash—told me about conversations he had with a few players. According to Dickie, the players spoke in a tone that gave the impression that they were not expecting to make it back alive. Some went as far as making arrangements to give their personal belongings away to girlfriends and family members.
       John Hagan, the team’s equipment manager, refused to go on the flight. Rather than fly, Hagan and student assistant David Byrd traveled by truck to East Carolina and they left on Friday. Hagan didn’t mince words about his decision. “It was Friday the 13th and I’m superstitious,” he told a reporter from the Associated Press. “Something just told me not to go on this trip.”
       Hagan heard about the crash on the drive back to West Virginia. A few days after the crash, a news photographer from the Herald-Dispatch newspaper captured a memorable image of Hagan. Inside the Herd’s locker room, Hagan is surrounded by reminders related to the tragedy. At his feet are the players’ duffle bags; to his right are shoulder pads and game uniforms. 
       The equipment made it back; the players did not.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Herd holds its own in first game after plane crash

        Nobody knew what to expect when Marshall’s football team took the 90-minute bus ride to Kentucky for a road game against Morehead State. A loyal contingent of approximately 4,000 accompanied the Thundering Herd that night.
      It was the ’71 season opener for both teams. But more significantly, it was the Marshall’s first regular-season game since the tragic plane crash of November 14, 1970.
      The Thundering Herd was clearly the under-dog in every conceivable way. Morehead’s Eagles were bigger and had far more game experience and a much deeper bench. Marshall, by contrast, was comprised primarily of freshmen and sophomores. The final stats revealed how much of a disparity existed between the two teams. The Eagles finished with 453 total yards to MU’s 141.
       The final score was 29-6, Morehead. But with 9 minutes, 21 seconds remaining in the third quarter, the Herd only trailed by 16-6 after quarterback Reggie Oliver threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tom Smyth.
       I didn’t go to that game, but I did listen intently on the radio. Even though MU didn’t come close to pulling off a stunning upset, I could feel the raw excitement of the moment when the Herd scored its first touchdown of the season.
       For that game, it wasn’t about victory or defeat. What was so satisfying was that this youthful team held its own against a squad that probably should have put 60 points on the board that night. The fact that the Herd even had a team was proof enough that Marshall University’s football resurrection was well underway.

      

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Decision to rejoin team was "the right thing to do"

        It was probably sometime in February ’71 that I began to entertain thoughts about playing college football again. By that time, it had been three months or so since the November 14, 1970 plane crash. The memories from that night remained vivid and fresh in the minds of everyone with any connection of any kind to Marshall University.
Book author Craig T. Greenlee
       I have to admit that it really wasn’t anything to think about. I played defensive back for the Thundering Herd for two seasons, but left the team the year before the crash. As a former teammate, I knew most of the players on that plane.
       So, there was no cause for deliberation. There was no need for me to measure the pros and the cons of making a comeback. My decision had nothing to do with passion for the game, or seeking to accomplish any newly-formulated goals as an athlete on the comeback trail.
       The crash left the school’s football program in a decimated state. The thirty-five guys from the ’70 freshman team were available for duty, along with four varsity guys who didn’t make the fatal road trip. Even so, Marshall still needed more bodies for spring practice.
       Bottom line … it was a matter of pitching in and helping out.
       In my view, we owed “the fellas” that much. It was only fitting that Thundering Herd football continued to press forward—if for no other reason than to honor those who perished. Fielding a team (in the spring) to prepare for the ’71 season was a clear acknowledgement from Marshall’s top brass that the ’70 team’s dedication and devotion was not in vain.
       Given those observations, how could I not go back?
       It was the right thing to do.
       It was the only thing to do.
     

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Until now, Dickie Carter's story has been ignored

(1970 Marshall football media guide)
       It still amazes me that Dickie Carter’s connection to Marshall University football has been overlooked or flat-out ignored. Carter was one of the Thundering Herd’s top running backs during his time at MU.
       Even more amazing is that he played on the 1970 team, but was not onboard the DC-9 jet that crashed and killed most of his teammates. Injury was not the cause for Carter’s absence. He left the team a few weeks prior to the tragedy after having a disagreement with head coach Rick Tolley.
       Dickie and I were teammates and I could write about him from a personal perspective. Instead, I’ve decided to use some archival material from the Thundering Herd’s 1970 football media guide (see graphic above).
       In the documentary Ashes to Glory, there’s a quick reference to Dickie. There’s even a picture of him that flashes across the screen for a second or two. Yet, there’s no explanation as to who No. 30 is.
       Oddly enough, something similar happened at a Marshall home football game in 2010. On November 13 of that year—the day before the 40th anniversary of the plane crash—the Herd played the University of Memphis.        
       Prior to the start of that game, all eyes in Joan C. Edwards Stadium focused on the giant TV screen to watch a video tribute for the 1970 team. Around the 37 seconds mark of the video, spectators see a photo of Dickie standing with wide receiver Dennis Blevins (80).
       People who have little or no knowledge about the plane crash might incorrectly assume that Dickie was on that plane, but he was not. It serves as a thought-provoking reminder that he could have been on that plane. Click here to see video on You Tube
       Dickie’s story has been forgotten about for far too long. The fact that his picture has appeared in a documentary and a video tribute, tells me that he deserves to have the opportunity to have his say. In November Ever After, he talks with a lot of candor about his times at Marshall. To gain further insight, go to the website's excerpt page to learn more about Dickie’s story.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

What they're saying about "November Ever After"

 GOODREADS.COM
  •  “Being that it's the bowl season, I figured now would be a great time to read this. While, yes, it is about a tremendous tragedy that rocked a community, it's also a great look at how they overcame. Mr. Greenlee did a masterful job of sharing the stories not only of the players who were lost, but of their families and fellow students. Tough at times, but in the end, a triumphant look at a great team of players who were lost too soon. Recommended for fans of college football.”

-- Victoria


BARNES & NOBLE

  •  “You won’t able to put it down!! Mr. Greenlee has captured the essence, atmosphere, and utter devastation caused by this tragedy of the most epic proportions. This book will leave you with an ever-increasing gratitude for the God-given gift we call LIFE. 

                                             -- Oswald Roach


AMAZON.COM

  •       “Many times throughout the story I found myself welled up with grief that those in this account experienced at that time. The author made me feel as though I knew each one of those surviving family members. This was a story about struggle. The university, the team, the families, and the students all shared in a compounded struggle. Who were the winners? You must read the book to find out who and if there were winners.”

-- Keno
  •  “Good account of this tragic event. My husband is from West Virginia and had the option to play at Marshall in this era. He chose an ACC school instead. He knew some players on this team and still feels the impact of this tragic event. This is a good read.”

-- Weave’s a lot

DIVERSE: Issues in Higher Education

  •  “I found November Ever After extremely painful to read at times, but also incredibly satisfying because it fills in blanks in my own knowledge, forces me to resurrect long-buried memories, and shares with others the African-American experiences at MU that many of us have long wished would be examined some day.”

-- Angela Dodson


NEWS & RECORD (NC)

  •  “Some of the most powerful passages in the book involve the moments when Greenlee and his classmates in a campus dormitory heard about the crash, then learned there were no survivors. Some snuck around police barricades to get closer to the wreckage and see for themselves. Others made tearful phone calls to victims’ families. And some, like Greenlee, tried to escape public displays and deal with the shock on their own.”
 
-- Jay Reddick

Saturday, January 7, 2012

What if Moss had stayed & crash never happened?

       I’ve often wondered what would have happened for Marshall’s football program if coach Perry Moss had kept his job and the plane crash had never happened. Moss was hired by Marshall for the express purpose of turning things around as quickly as possible.
Perry Moss
       That’s where I come in. I was among the multitude of college hopefuls who responded to Moss’s massive letter-writing campaign which attracted football players from all across the Deep South in 1968. More than 100 freshmen football players descended on Huntington, West Virginia with the sole intent of earning a spot on the team and receiving a scholarship.
       It was Moss’s first recruiting class. Marshall’s 1968 freshman team went undefeated and most of the starters from that squad won starting jobs on the varsity for the ’69 season. With such an awesome start, there’s no telling how quickly the Thundering Herd would have ascended among the ranks of the Mid-American Conference. But because of a recruiting scandal, MU was busted for more than 100 NCAA violations. The school was placed on indefinite suspension by the MAC and was under heavy NCAA scrutiny.
       As a result, Moss lost his job and he never got the opportunity to actually coach the freshmen who appeared destined to help Marshall become a legitimate football powerhouse.
        The ’68 freshman team provided all the necessary proof that Moss had an exceptional eye when it came to spotting talent. To this day, it still boggles my mind as to what the Herd would have achieved if Moss had been able to put together three more recruiting classes and if there had been no tragedy involving the football team. A significant percentage of the players who died in the crash were Perry Moss recruits.
       Moss, known as an offensive mastermind, has coached in every major professional football league in America since the All-American Conference disbanded in 1949. Aside from his stints as head coach at Marshall and Florida State, Moss has coached in the Canadian and Continental Leagues and the Arena Football League.
       In an Associated Press article that ran in the Los Angeles Times in 1987, Moss commented on some of the lessons he learned during his career.
      
       “I've coached with, under and against all of the big names—Bear Bryant, Don Shula, George Allen. I think I've learned some football during that time. I think I know as much football as anybody. One thing I've always done is stay up with the game. I've not tried to get by on what I was coaching 10 years ago. There's something else I've learned. No matter how much you know, no matter how much you can teach your players, you've got to have the players to win. You can coach all you want, if you don't have the players, you won't win.”


Website for November Ever After

Friday, January 6, 2012

Cottrell made the most of his opportunity to play

        In 1970, Stuart Cottrell was a back-up safety for Marshall’s Thundering Herd. For most of that season, he didn’t get much playing time.
       Late in the season, the sophomore from Eustis, Florida was given an opportunity to play against East Carolina and he didn’t disappoint. Cottrell was inserted into the starting lineup because starting safety Felix Jordan was sidelined with a sprained ankle. Jordan didn’t travel to ECU, but was expected to be ready the following week for the season finale vs. Ohio University.
Stuart Cottrell (MU photo)
       It didn’t take long for Cottrell, a converted quarterback, to make his presence felt. East Carolina jumped out to a 7-0 lead over the Herd. But with a little over minute left in the first quarter, Cottrell picked off a Pirates’ pass and raced 81 yards for a touchdown and Marshall tied the game 7-7.
       This was a momentous occasion. Cottrell scored the first touchdown of his college career. The interception runback was the second-longest in school history at that time. The Herd played valiantly, and had a chance to possibly tie the game. But a questionable ref’s call in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter moved MU out of field goal range and the end result was a 17-14 road loss.
       As things turned out, the ECU game would be the last time that Cottrell and most of his teammates would play a football game. A few hours after the game was over, Marshall’s plane crashed as it attempted to land at Tri-State Airport in Huntington, West Virginia. Nobody survived.
       Having read the MU-ECU game story in the newspaper, there’s one thought that I couldn’t get out my head. Cottrell delivered his best performance as a collegian, but less than four hours after that performance, he was gone.
       As I surfed the Internet for background info about Cottrell, I discovered some interesting insights that appeared on a blog (The Real “We Are Marshall” Story) around the time the movie We Are Marshall was in production.  The entry was written by Cottrell’s baby sister, Leigh, who was 12 years old at the time of the crash.
       Leigh Cottrell Cordiner recalled how her parents traveled by car from Florida to North Carolina to see their son play a college game for the first time. Cordiner wrote:    

      "Mom and Dad watched our hero one last time as he intercepted a pass and ran nearly the entire length of the field to score Marshall's first touchdown of the game. My parents, Ruth and Jenkie Cottrell, saw Stuart after the game, talked to him, hugged and kissed him, told him how proud they were, and felt all the love and pride that parents feel for their child. I have always been grateful to God that my parents had that precious, last goodbye.”

       NOTE: The Marshall plane crash story is full of ironies. Here’s another example:  Jenkie Cottrell passed away on November 14, 1988 – the 18th anniversary of the crash.



Thursday, January 5, 2012

Author had no interest in aerial view of crash site

        On the night of the Marshall crash, I kept my vow and stayed away from the scene of the disaster at Tri-State Airport. Six days later, though, I had to go to that same airport to catch a flight to Waco, Texas.
       The time had come for me to say my farewells to my best friend Scottie Reese, whose funeral was held the Saturday after the crash. Scottie and I arrived at Marshall the same year (1968) and we both were starters on defense for the Thundering Herd’s undefeated freshman team. I played safety; Scottie was a defensive end and outside linebacker.
       I took the trip to Texas with blinders on. Sheila Callahan and I were the student representatives from MU who attended the services for Scottie. On the drive from campus, I deliberately kept myself from looking around as we neared the airport. I had no interest in seeing anything that might provide even a hint of a reminder about the tragedy.
      After I boarded the plane, I made sure to secure a seat next to the aisle. That’s not what I normally do when traveling by air. Usually, I sit at the window. That’s my preference because once the plane is airborne; I’m able to get an excellent view of different cloud patterns, the lay of the land below, and the sun (if it’s not overcast).
       For this particular journey, there would be no sight-seeing from the aircraft for me. Why not? Clean-up of the crash site had not been completed and crews were still working.
       I could only imagine what the scene may have looked like from the air. Just to make sure that I would never know for sure, I intentionally turned away from the window and towards the aisle. To keep from seeing anything from the opposite window on the other side of the aisle, I looked at the ceiling and the floor.
       At other times, I just closed my eyes. I did this for about 20 minutes after liftoff from Tri-State. I figured that after that much time, the plane would be far away from the Huntington airport. In that situation, I could assure myself that even if I did look out the window, whatever I saw would not be anything I could associate with the plane crash.
       Coming back on the return flight from Texas, I repeated that routine as the plane approached Tri-State Airport. I was relieved that I never had any haunting memories about the crash.



      

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

11.14.70 ... A night of disbelief, anguish and denial

        The night of November 14, 1970 was a night of denial for me.
       Even after it had been confirmed that it was Marshall’s chartered jet that crashed, I never thought it might be fatal. For whatever reason, I kept thinking and hoping that the crash wasn’t all that bad.
       I kept thinking …
       Maybe the crash happened right before the plane hit the runaway and the jet had to land on its belly. Or, maybe one of the wings was detached, but the plane still reached the runway intact. In both scenarios, the worst I could imagine was a lot of people being injured.
       Then it occurred to me that things could be far worse than I originally thought. But even then, I couldn’t force myself to even consider that there might not be any survivors. Kept thinking that some way, somehow, that when the plane crashed, there just had to be some people who were thrown free of the wreckage.
       When the word came that nobody survived, I got this sense that yeah, I heard what was said, but I don’t totally buy into what was said.
       There were carloads of students who sped from the dorms and rushed to the airport. The unspoken expectation was that some of the passengers would be found alive. The fact that so many people descended so quickly on the crash site indicated that all of us were thinking the same thing. If there were any survivors—as we all hoped—it would help if somebody was there at the scene to render aid to the injured passengers until they could get medical attention.
       That scenario never materialized. Folks on the Marshall campus were frantic. At no time was I ever eager to ride out to the airport. How come? I was afraid of what I might see, and I didn’t want to chance it. Quite frankly, I was OK with that. All I wanted was to remember “the fellas” from the last time I saw them when they were alive.

For more information, click on the links below:

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Today's Q&A interview session with the author

Book author and former Herd DB Craig T. Greenlee
       Q. How long did the book take you from start to finish?
       A. About 4 ½ years. But there’s a good reason why it took that long. Originally, my recollections about my time at Marshall were going to run as a lengthy feature article in the Winston-Salem Journal (NC) daily newspaper. Once the feature was finished (March 2007), it sat for about a year and never ran. That’s when I withdrew the article for the newspaper’s use and decided that it would be better if I expanded what I had written and turn it into a self-published book. I decided to expand the book to include those people whose voices had never been included in previously released projects about the plane crash. My initial feature article involved the recollections of four people. By the time I finished the final manuscript, I had interviewed 20 people. Expansion worked very well because it provided in-depth insights from a multitude of credible sources.
       Q. What aspect of writing the book did you find particularly challenging?
       A. My interviews with Macie Lugo, Janice Cooley and Debbie (Bailey) Bowen. Macie and Janice had boyfriends who were on that plane. In this instance, we’re talking about college sweethearts— Macie and defensive back Larry Sanders; Janice and running back Art Harris. Debbie, the first black cheerleader at Marshall, was embraced as a baby sister by Joe Hood, Robert VanHorn and Freddy Wilson. Even though it’s been forty-one years since the tragedy, I was keenly aware that asking them to relive those memories of long ago was not the easiest thing for them to do. I’ll always be appreciative of their willingness to openly discuss a subject that still stirs up memories of agony and sadness. More than anything, I wanted them to feel at ease during their interviews. For me, it was important that I asked questions in such a way that it wouldn’t come off as being intrusive.
       Q. What can we look forward to in your next book?
       A: Haven’t quite figured out which direction to take. I have a box full of pictures of famous athletes and celebrities that I’d like to publish as a book. This will not be a picture book. I will include some detailed recollections of my observations and interviews with the people that I photographed during the course of my 30-plus years as a journalist. Even so, that’s subject to change. In recent months, I’ve started to entertain thoughts of doing a sequel of sorts to November Ever After. Since the release of this memoir, I’ve had so many conversations and email messages from people telling me about different aspects of the crash that I had never heard about. I’m finding that there are so many intriguing stories out there and that folks don’t mind sharing those memories. For those who are interested his sharing what you know, leave a comment on this blog or the book’s website.

Additional resources:
Book excerpt/Chapter 10
Website for November Ever After

Monday, January 2, 2012

Ten reasons why memoir is a compelling read

November Ever After is a memoir about Craig T. Greenlee’s days as a college jock at Marshall University in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. He played football at MU for two seasons, but was not on the team at the time the November 14, 1970 plane crash that killed most of the Thundering Herd’s football team. As a former teammate, Greenlee knew most of the players who were on that flight.
Below you’ll find ten reasons why this memoir captivates and engages readers.

  •           Previously-produced documentaries and the movie We Are Marshall are appetizers.  By      comparison, November Ever After is the full-course meal.
  •          The book represents high-profile sports history with an abundance of eyewitness input.
  •           The story is so amazing that it sounds like fiction, but it’s not.  This memoir goes into detail about how these events played out in real life.
  •      The book’s content is rich with all the requisite ingredients needed for a provocative story line – romance, premonition, prophecy, denial, depression, revelation, relief and ecstasy.
  •       November Ever After is one-of-a-kind. It’s an old story with a twist that’s new and true.
  •       Find out how the devastation of the plane crash helped to avert a potentially-bloody race riot on the Marshall campus.
  •       Discover what things were really like when Marshall started rebuilding its football program in the months following the November plane crash.
  •         Get the truth about one of the greatest plays in college football – when Marshall scored the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds to pull off a stunning upset of Xavier University in 1971. The win came in MU’s first home game after the crash which occurred ten months earlier.
  •      Learn why life would never be the same for those who were left behind in the wake of the tragedy.
  •        Get an up-close-and-personal look at personal relationships with students and some of the players who perished.
For more information, check out the following resources by clicking on the links below: