Monday, February 6, 2012

Remembering the joy of the Marshall miracle in '71

Herd running back Terry Gardner

       Marshall University’s first home football game of the ’71 season was a game for the ages. Here are a few reasons why.
  • The Thundering Herd beat Xavier of Ohio 15-13 in the most dramatic fashion—on the very last play of the game. The final gun had already sounded when Reggie Oliver threw a screen pass to Terry Gardner, who raced to the end zone untouched for the 13-yard game-winning touchdown.
  • The ’70 plane crash wiped out most of the varsity team. To help MU field a team for ’71, the NCAA granted Marshall a special exemption which allowed freshmen to play varsity ball. The young Herd, comprised primarily of freshmen and sophomores, defeated an Xavier team whose roster had a good number of upperclassmen. Given those circumstances, Marshall’s victory was unprecedented
  • The game-winning touchdown is acknowledged as one of the most memorable in the annals of NCAA football. ESPN ranks the Marshall miracle on its list of the Top 100 Plays in College Football (No. 83).
       Minutes after Gardner scored, the near-capacity crowd at Fairfield Stadium (about 13,000) poured onto the field to bask in the celebration of an upset win that is arguably the greatest moment in the history Marshall’s football program.
        I hung around the stadium after that game for about thirty minutes or so. It was amazing to observe people’s reactions in the aftermath of the Marshall miracle. Some people broke down in tears. Others couldn’t contain their exuberance. There was more whooping and hollering than anyone could ever imagine. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think that the Herd had won a national championship.
        The fact that Marshall even had a team in ’71 was reason enough to rejoice. As someone who attended the Xavier-MU game, it’s hard to adequately explain my emotions as I watched a youthful squad win a game only ten months after the air crash that killed most of my former teammates.


  1. Female Field GuideMonday, February 06, 2012

    (Reply on Twitter) @TLee712 Enjoy reading your blog!

  2. My daughter gave me a copy of "November Ever After" for Christmas. I graduated from Marshall in 1968, so your story is very close to me. I've just retired from Steel of WV, which was used in the movie (fictitiously). You've added greatly to my understanding about what was happening at that time. I appreciate your work.

  3. Thanks for the memories Craig. I remember Scottie, "The Guv", "Dupree" and all of the guys like it was yesterday.