Successful teams are often reminded for this. Even long after the competition ended, this success seems to accompany them everywhere.
However, some are remembered for the other side. Just like a memorable championship, loss – under the right circumstances – can haunt a team forever.
Such a game was played 50 years ago today. And the circumstances of this Huntington, West Virginia meeting are unrivaled.
A year earlier, on November 14, 1970, nearly the entire Marshall University football team was killed when their chartered jet, returning home from a loss in East Carolina, hit one right outside the Tri-State Airport near Huntington Hill fell.
All 75 people on board were killed.
Rather than interrupting the following season, Marshall was able to rebuild a squad and coaching staff to set up a team.
Marshall Football returns to the soccer field
Ten months after the crash, the Thundering Herd welcomed Xavier University to a game at Fairfield Stadium on September 25, 1971.
With eight seconds in play, Xavier was leading 13-9, but Marshall had the ball at the Musketeers 13-yard line.
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“I played almost the entire game,” said Rich Kase, an insider linebacker for The Musketeers. “They pulled me so that I was on the sidelines. So I’m watching how this unfolds … I saw the guy coming from the backcourt.”
Kase saw Terry Gardner, a newcomer to Marshall, slip out of the backcourt to play a pass.
“I saw him juke a guy then he goes into the end zone,” said Kase. “… And the whole place has gone wild. No more time – 15-13, game over.”
Fifty years later, the magnitude of that moment has not escaped those who lived through it.
“I never thought the game would have so much influence,” said Matt Chinchar, who played the offensive line for Xavier from 1969 to 1973. “It became a movie (‘We Are Marshall’). After seeing the movie and everything that happened to them, it was divine intervention. It was supposed to be a healing in the university.
“A loss, God took it and made something good out of it, not necessarily for us, but for this university.”
Last weekend, Marshall held a ceremony in honor of that win over Xavier, the team’s first since the crash. Several Musketeers – Kase, Chinchar, and Mike Sherrett – returned to Huntington with Mike Barras, an offensive lineman from Xavier (1969-73), who led efforts to be part of the ceremony.
Barras is from Appleton, Wisconsin, and if anyone asks him how he ended up in Cincinnati, he has a smart answer that will remind you how much he meant a game five decades ago.
“Well the answer was I got a football scholarship to go to Xavier University, but that’s not my answer,” said Barras. “Have you ever seen the movie ‘We Are Marshall’? Do you remember which team you played against at the end of the last sequence? And maybe one in ten people would say Xavier, but most of them wouldn’t.
“If we had won this game, from that point of view, Xavier Football would have been just as much in the past as ever. But since we lost the game, they’ve made a movie.”
Xavier football ended in the 1973 season
Xavier stopped his football program after the 1973 season, a decision that is still not well received by former players. But that’s also one reason why the past matters to those who put the pads on at Xavier.
“If it wasn’t for Mike Barras, I don’t know if I would have gone (to the ceremony),” said Chinchar, who made football a part of his life as a longtime assistant coach at Glenville High School in Cleveland. Ohio. “But he encouraged me and talked to me, and I said, ‘You know what? I’m going because it’s a special moment in history.’ And to meet some of the guys we played against. “
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The game still sticks out on Xavier’s side, but last weekend the Musketeers offered some perspective.
“I often tell people jokingly, ‘Yeah, I played’ We Are Marshall ‘and we made history like General Custer did on The Last Stand. We made history by losing a game,'” Kase laughed. “You have a lot of feelings after something like that. We didn’t win the game, but I had a pretty good career with Xavier. I was a captain in my senior year. I was a defense MVP. … It was a great time while I was there. I made great friends.
“I spoke to this role over the weekend (at Marshall). And I said, ‘Look, I haven’t gotten over this yet.
“We played that game 50 years ago and everyone remembers it. I watch the movie all the time, but I don’t watch it from start to finish. I watch it but I know how it ends.”
It was emotional to meet their competitors and hear their stories and memories from a lifetime.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Kase. “My wife, Cathy, and I went under. And I thought some of the guys are probably going to give you the needle for punching us and they shouldn’t, but they were as nice as they can get. I’m in a panel discussion next to this defensive lineman for Marshall. We are both 69 years old and he talks about the game and then all of a sudden tears come. I tap his shoulder and try to make him feel better, but we both got caught up in our emotions. “
The past is never entirely gone. Some may choose to run away from it, others choose to accept it.
Kase, Chinchar, and Barras all made the same reference to Marshall and the events that followed that day when they remembered that game – a phoenix rising from the ashes.
“I’m kind of glad it happened,” said Barras. “Because I won’t talk to you without that.
“… And maybe we just get up with the ashes for a moment anyway. Or we get a moment in the sun in our senior years.”