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.

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