Arriving in Huntington, West Virginia for gameday was a welcome sight after driving through an entire landscape of Kentucky nothingness. Homecoming festivities filled the adorable downtown space adjacent to Pullman Square – an area complete with little shops and eateries that somewhat resembled the quaintness of a movie set. The dreary clouds and slow drizzle hardly dented the enthusiasm for another Marshall gameday – especially with the team boasting an undefeated record.
An alumni 5K was underway, and on a nearby parallel street, the homecoming parade began inching toward Joan C. Edwards Stadium. The noon kickoff and inclement weather kept tailgating from consuming campus at first, but that all changed late morning when the rain dissipated leaving behind a billowing gray sky. The parking lot outside the stadium soon became blanketed with green clad partisans anticipating a dominant win over the visitors from Middle Tennessee. Fans gathered to cheer on their Thundering Herd team as they stepped off the buses for the Thunder Walk. Shortly after, the band followed with their traditional march to the stadium proudly playing “Sons of Marshall” along the way.
We took in all these sights and sounds while also managing to snap a few pictures with Marco the Buffalo. The visit wouldn’t quite be complete without paying respects to the multiple memorials around the stadium commemorating the devastating loss of the 1970 Marshall football team. That singular moment defines so much of this team’s spirit, unity, and strength. The impact of that tragedy left an indelible, yet powerful mark on this campus. Evidence of this presented itself moments prior to kickoff when the university honored the 30th anniversary of the 1984 team. The announcer noted that this 1984 squad was the first team to notch a winning record since the 1970 plane crash, which resulted in a standing ovation that was simultaneously thunderous and reverent.
Not to undermine the impressiveness of Marshall’s dominant victory over Middle Tennessee State, but their 2014 schedule has been (and will continue to be) softer than velvet. Expectingly, the Thundering Herd offense had MTSU defenders more displaced than Nicky Minaj judging American Idol.
The leader and hero for Marshall is quarterback Rakeem Cato, a kid who rose from the depths of his impoverished upbringing to lead an FBS football program to great heights – a perfect fit for the culture of this program. On this day, Cato threw for a score that tied Russell Wilson’s NCAA record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass. However, his legacy will transcend beyond the record books, as he stands for what aspiring young college football leaders should emulate.
The feet stomping Thundering Herd fans had much to stampede about this afternoon. The 49-24 demolition of the Blue Raiders surely had the MTSU marching band feeling like it just wasted a few tanks of gas money to make the journey from Murfreesboro. They got to play their fight song a few times, I suppose.
Marshall fans that filled “The Joan” were brimming with green and alumni pride, and the team sent the homecoming crowd exiting the gate satisfied. We too walked away completely fulfilled with our experience in Huntington. Our last stop on the way out of campus was to the Marshall University Memorial Fountain, which stands in tribute to those who lost their lives in the disastrous plane crash in 1970. It served as the perfect moment of reflection on a campus that has rebuilt itself and emerged from the ashes stronger and forever united.