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.