Friday, March 30, 2012

Chapter Four excerpt: "Unforgettable, Unbelievable"

The Campus Christian Center at MU

       Those who lived near the airport recall hearing an ear-splitting sound when Marshall’s plane exploded. According to reports, the impact was so great that it caused houses in the surrounding area to shake. The crash scene did not stay isolated for long. Less than thirty minutes afterward, people swarmed the area. It took the authorities nearly two hours to finally clear the site of friends and family members of the victims, the news media, and onlookers.
       One of the most mind-numbing sequences on this horrible night involved the wife and three children of a local sportscaster who was a passenger on that flight. Despite the foggy conditions, they watched and waited for the plane to arrive as scheduled, but it never touched down on the runway. The DC-9 jet disappeared behind a hill. And then there was a brilliant flash followed by a mushroom cloud of black smoke, made visible at nighttime by the brightness from the explosion.
       Predictably, the plane crash produced an emotional tsunami of mourning and depression for everyone with any kind of connection to the school or the city.
       Larry Isom heard about the crash and got a sick feeling in his stomach. Isom, a sophomore, was not an athlete, but he had more than a passing interest in Thundering Herd football. He and cornerback Bobby Joe Hill were best friends. In Isom’s mind, it was unthinkable that Bobby, known to everyone as “Bee-Bop,” might be dead. Soon after the news broke, Isom was among a group of twelve students who crammed inside two cars for the drive to the airport. Everybody felt the urgency to get to the crash scene as soon as possible.
       When they got there, the main road was blocked off. The car Isom rode in pulled up beside one of the National Guardsman on duty. They would not be allowed to travel any farther. Before turning around and driving off, one of the students in the car insisted on gleaning more information from the guardsman.
       “Is this the football team’s plane that went down?”
       The guardsman responded with a company-line response. “I can’t say. Right now, there’s a lot that we just don’t know.”
       Not satisfied, another student in the car spoke up. “Just tell us. Is it?”
       The guardsman relented. “You all are going get me in trouble. I’m not
supposed to be telling you any of this. Yes, it is Marshall’s football team.”
       The reaction to the news that nobody wanted to hear didn’t settle very well. Wailing and screaming combined with moans of anguish pierced the night air.
       As the car turned around to leave, Isom heard shouting coming from the other carload of students. Somebody knew about an alternate route that would put them closer to the scene. It was the only accessible way to get to that part of the mountain where the crash occurred.
       One car followed the other down this narrow dirt road, which wasn’t too far from the highway. When the two carloads arrived, they quickly realized they were not alone. One side of the road was littered with cars, trucks, and ambulances. The flashing lights from the ambulances and the steady beams from the headlights of the other vehicles aided visibility to some extent.
       Isom got out of the car and noticed a group of nearly a hundred people running in one direction. Instinctively, he followed the pack and bypassed a lot of folks on the way. Nobody seemed to care about the numbing cold or the muddy terrain, which caused more than a few folks to slip and slide as they moved about. The foggy conditions didn’t help any either.
       After running what seemed like a mile-long distance, Isom and the others turned off the road and ventured into the woods. Even though the area had been roped off by the emergency rescue team, it wasn’t enough to keep people away. There were no state police, National Guardsmen, or volunteer firemen in the vicinity, so the crowd of onlookers continued to press their way through the dense woods.
       It wasn’t long before they came to a small hill. People started walking and running up this slightly steep incline. They were not prepared for what they saw when they reached the top: a front-and-center view of the Marshall plane lying at the bottom of the hollow. Debris and pieces of the aircraft were strewn about over a radius of about a quarter of a mile. Some of the wreckage continued to burn for several hours after the crash.
       “After a while, we realized we weren’t going to find anybody,” Isom said. “It was time to go. The people I rode to the airport with had already left. To get back to the school, me and a friend of mine had to ride in the trunk of a car.”
       Back on campus, mass anxiety reigned. There was still no “official” word about survivors. Time inched along at a snail’s pace. With every passing hour, it became more and more apparent that the unthinkable had occurred. Marshall had a major catastrophe on its hands.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Alabama event: “Coaches expressed special bond…”

        I got a chance to talk to the sportswriter who covered the museum exhibit dedication ceremony held in honor of the four Tuscaloosa, Alabama players who died in the 1970 Marshall plane crash. Larry Sanders, Joe Hood, Freddy Wilson and Robert Van Horn were all graduates of Druid High School in Tuscaloosa.
       Chris Pow writes for, a state-wide news website that covers Alabama. I thought it would be interesting to talk to Pow, especially since he was born several years after the crash. I wanted to hear his point of view as someone who had no personal connections or recollections of the tragedy.
        I’m told that among those in attendance, there were 50 people who represented the families of the four players who were also my former MU football teammates.
        “It was an event that the community really wanted,” Pow said. “It’s been a long time coming. What I remember most if how the coaches (Carl Kokor, Mickey Jackson and Ken O’Rourke) expressed the special bond they had with the players. People were happy to have any sort of recognition to honor them.”
       For more information about the dedication ceremony, click on the link below to read Pow’s article.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Are Marshall football fans truly rude and hostile?

      A few days ago, I encountered this tidbit of information about Marshall University’s football faithful. It was not a flattering portrait for a following that’s probably as passionate bunch of fans as there is anywhere in America.
       In an article entitled” “35 Stadiums You Wouldn’t Get Caught Dead In”, columnist David Luther slams Thundering Herd fans in an entry posted on The Bleacher Report website at the start of the 2011 season.
       According to Luther, Marshall followers are the absolute worst and could never be accused of being gracious hosts. As a result, the Herd’s home field – Joan C. Edwards Stadium – made The Bleacher Report’s list of places where you shouldn’t attend a college football game. Luther wrote:

     “Marshall fans have earned the reputation of being some of the rudest people on Saturday afternoons. If you're brave enough to enter Joan C. Edwards Stadium wearing a sweatshirt from the opposing team, get ready to be heckled, cursed at and berated.”

       So, what’s your response to what Luther wrote? Is it justified, or simply a case of sour grapes because his favorite team (don’t know who that might be) came to Huntington, West Virginia and suffered a stomp-down spanking? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.
       By the way, Marshall was joined on this dubious list by college football notables Ohio State, Miami (Florida), Colorado, Arkansas, Florida and Southern Cal.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Here’s the skinny on the “We Are Marshall” chant

      From the very first time I watched the movie We Are Marshall, I’ve always had this annoying feeling about how the chant was used in that film. If you didn’t know any better, you would think that the chant actually existed at the time of the 1970 plane crash. Not only that, but it was also popular among the fans as well as the Marshall student body.
       That’s just not true.
       But as I’ve learned over the past few months, that doesn’t mean that the chant was a myth created by Warner Brothers. The chant was real and it existed long before the glory years of Thundering Herd football in the 1990s.
       Fact is, the chant had its beginnings not long after the crash. And it all began with Marshall’s cheerleaders from back in that day.
       Carol Richardson McCullough was not a Marshall student at the time of the tragedy. She arrived at MU two years later and became a Herd cheerleader in the early ‘70s. Not long after the beginning of the new year, I received message from Carol on Facebook and she provided a time frame as to when the chant first came into existence.
       “Regarding the movie title chant,” Carol wrote, “I can safely say we DID use that cheer as early as 1973. That’s the same year I started cheering on the varsity squad. In fact, I remember one of the cheerleaders (Marilyn Johnson) who taught it to me, and it went like this.”
       We Are (clap-clap)
       Mar-shall (clap-clap)
       We Are (clap-clap)
       Mar-shall (clap-clap)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Curry is a known commodity among NFL scouts

       When the NFL Draft takes place next month, it’s highly unlikely that Marshall University’s Vinny Curry will still on the draft board after the second round.  The 6-3, 265 pounds defensive end is the relentless pass sack artist that the pros covet.
       As a senior, Curry was voted the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year after putting up some notable numbers (11 sacks, seven forced fumbles and 22 tackles for a loss). Curry delivered consistency during his time with the Thundering Herd with 26½
sacks, 10 forced fumbles and 32 quarterback hurries. 
       According to several websites devoted to the pro draft, Curry won’t have any problems attracting interest.
       The list of interested NFL parties includes: Green Bay, Pittsburgh, New England, Buffalo, Kansas City, San Diego, Arizona, Baltimore and Miami.
       Here’s a pre-draft outlook about Curry which appeared on, a website that specializes in mock draft scenarios and player prospect rankings.

       “Curry would be a good fit in any 3-4 defense. He would be ideal complement as an edge rusher for Green Bay on the other side from Clay Matthews. Curry could be a quality understudy for the Steelers' James Harrison. For the Patriots, Bills and Chargers, Curry could make a quick impact, as all of those teams could use an upgrade for their edge rushers immediately.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Report: Moss headed back to ‘Frisco Bay area

        The San Francisco 49ers are expected to announce today that they have signed the no longer retired Randy Moss to a one-year contract. The signing of the 35-year old wide receiver gives the Niners with a genuine deep threat that they sorely lacked last season.    
       Moss’s mere presence will prevent opponents from double and triple-teaming superstar tight end Vernon Davis. But that’s not the only benefit. ‘Frisco has a bullish ground game, which sets the table nicely for play-action passes. With Moss speed and leaping ability creating match-up problems, the 49ers offense become far more formidable.
      Apparently, coach Jim Harbaugh saw all he needed to see when Moss worked out for San Francisco on Monday. This won’t be the first time that Moss has played on the West Coast. The former Marshall University star had an uneventful two-year stint with the Oakland Raiders (2005-06). Moss realizes that this is his final shot at playing and staying in the NFL. Being properly motivated will not be an issue. And besides, Moss wants to prove that he still has the giddy-up, excellent hands and game-breaking skills which are his trademarks.
       Right now, it’s not clear as to who might be throwing to Moss. San Francisco is currently negotiating to re-sign QB Alex Smith, but he hasn’t signed a contract yet. Adding to the uncertainty is the speculation that the 49ers have more than a passing interest in bringing Peyton Manning on board.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Moss shows he has plenty of "fast" left in his tank

       Well, it seems as if those detractors of Randy Moss will have to remain silent. All the talk about the recently unretired 35-year old wide receiver being over the hill is absolutely premature.
       The brain trust of the New Orleans Saints can bear witness that Moss is still the same Moss that everyone remembers – a genuine game-changer who’s capable of scoring any time he gets his hands on a football. 
       According to reports, the former Marshall University stand-out blew everybody’s minds earlier this week when the Saints brought him in for a personal workout. Moss ran over 40 pass routes and showed that he’s still among the swiftest athletes in pro football. He reportedly ran between 4.3 and 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash. And ... he can still catch anything thrown his way.
       The Saints gave Moss glowing reviews. So there’s no doubt that other NFL teams will be sure to make the obligatory phone calls of inquiry. It’s quite possible that Moss could take up residence in Bayou country. And that’s because the Saints could end up losing two of their top receivers—Marques Colston and Robert Meachum—to free agency. I can’t imagine that all-pro QB Drew Brees would have any objections to having Moss on board.
       That doesn’t mean that Moss is lock to play in New Orleans. It’s been said that he has at least one or two more workouts with other teams scheduled. The names of those teams had not been made public as of late Wednesday afternoon (March 7).
       The last time Moss played in the NFL was 2010 and it memorable for all the wrong reasons. He started out with the New England Patriots, but was traded before midseason to the Minnesota Vikings. That arrangement didn’t work out and the Vikings shipped Moss to the Tennessee Titans. Moss finished that season as a non-factor. The next season he was available for duty, but never signed with ant team, so he opted to retire right before the start of the 2011 regular season.
       It’s still a bit early to tell just where Moss might go. But it’s always interesting hear the voices of the fans who follow the game so closely. I’ve included a few comments that recently appeared on the official website of Randy Moss.

Big Poppa: “I can't help but think if you ended up in Detroit coupled with Calvin Johnson, it could potentially make for the most dangerous tandem in NFL history -- and keeping pass defenses looking like the Washington Generals. I think the ring simply ‘comes with the territory.’ Just saying!”

Great Raven Woman: “What better way to settle the rumors that you are one of the greatest football players ever than by coming to the Baltimore Ravens. Just think about it. You will be playing with Anquan Boldin, Ray Rice, and Joe Flacco on one side of the ball, and then with Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs on the other side of the ball. You can finally get revenge against the Patriots for the way they treated you.”
Gman8184: “Everybody has good points for wanting Randy on their team but he definitely needs to go with the H-town Texans. That team is ready for a Super Bowl and Randy with Andre (Johnson) would be almost impossible to stop. We got help with (Arian) Foster and (Owen) Daniels and the defense is super stacked.”

Friday, March 2, 2012

Cheerleader has fond recollections of ‘Bama players

        Debbie (Bailey) Bowen has vivid memories of the devastation she felt after learning that the Marshall football team’s plane had crashed, killing all seventy-five passengers on board. As the Thundering Herd’s first black cheerleader, Bowen developed a special kinship with three football players from Tuscaloosa, Alabama—Freddy Wilson, Robert VanHorn and Joe Hood. She was the baby sister;  they were the protective big brothers.
       In the memoir November Ever After, she reveals how supportive they were in her quest to earn a spot on the varsity cheerleading squad. Not everybody associated with the school was eager to see Debbie make the team.
       After several discussions between leaders of the Black United Students and Marshall administrators, it was decided that blacks would be allowed to train with the varsity cheerleaders which would give them a fair chance at making the team. It’s been said that the Alabama guys made it clear that they would refuse to play if Debbie was not chosen for the team. Here’s a short excerpt from the book in which Debbie explains why she will always feel a strong sense of gratitude for the unflinching support they provided.

       “They were willing to put their scholarships on the line for the principle of the thing. That’s one of the reasons why they are so important to me. The older I get, the more I realize how willing they were to take a risk and make a difference.”

       Wilson made sure that the school’s first black cheerleader wouldn’t have to walk home at night to the off-campus apartment that she and her father lived in.  He took it upon himself to drive Debbie home every night after practice and after he had eaten dinner in the school cafeteria.

       “Even when it rained, he was right there,” Debbie remembered.

       Freddy Wilson had a way of making strong impressions with everyone he encountered. John E. Gordon Sr., one of Wilson’s child-hood buddies from Tuscaloosa, recently wrote an article for the TuscaloosaNews.Com website about his memories of Wilson
Read  Gordon's "My Turn" column here The article is a reflective recollection of some of the times he and Wilson spent together as youngsters.