In 1987 Marshall made its first trip to the National Championship Game. They got the taste of it, but were unable to make it back until 1991. From 1991 to 1996, the Herd made it to the final game of the season every year but once. This week, Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick inked a home and home deal with the team that kept the Herd from going to six straight championship games.
Marshall will play Boise State at Boise in 2019, and the Broncos will return the game to Joan C. Edwards Stadium in 2020. Still, that game in 1994, on the Blue “smurf” turf in Boise haunts many former Marshall players and current fans to this day.
Aaron Ferguson was a true sophomore in 1994 from Dobyns Bennett High School out of Kingsport, Tennessee. He came to Marshall after being recruited by former Head Coach Jim Donnan who would go on to coach at the University of Georgia. Herdhaven.com recently caught up with Ferguson to discuss several things, most notably the one game that got away, and the Herd signing to play that team in the near future.
I asked Ferguson what he remembered the most about his trip to Boise, something not involving the actual game itself. He immediately said, “A bird literally nose dived into the blue turf before our practice. It was a suicide bomber!”
He went on to talk a little about the game and what it was like to play in Boise that season. “The environment was great. It was extremely loud and their fans were great. They never stopped screaming the entire game when we had the football. (announced attendance was 20,068).” He went on to say, “It was the coldest game I have ever played in. After the sun went down in the second half, it got even colder. My father had to break ice off of his seat before he could even sit down.”
He said the city was beautiful, “Beautiful scenery, there was snow everywhere, and the people that we met were very nice.” Marshall played the Broncos in the semifinals that season in Boise, which was in mid December (December 10th to be exact). The return trip of the Herd in September, 2019 should be substantially different in regards to the weather.
Ferguson doesn’t like to talk about the game very much. When he was first approached to talk about the game and the upcoming games, he said, “I am not sure If I will remember much, I try to block the memory of that game out of my mind.”
One thing he remembered about the game was the very first series. He said, “I remember the first series of the game very well. We made some mistakes that cost us a lot of yardage. Bad snaps, missed assignments, etc. We beat ourselves in that game. We were the better team.” Even with the slow start, the Herd held a 24 to 7 lead before giving up the games final 21 points.
Marshall currently plays road conference games in CUSA as far away as El Paso, Texas. Ferguson as asked what it was like playing that far away from home, was it any different than playing a normal road game in the same time zone a few hours away. “Not really any different than a normal road game. Believe it or not, I really never noticed the crowd until after we scored.”
It seems that almost every old game day story has one of those stories that cannot be told until many years have passed by. Herdhaven asked Ferguson if there were any good stories from the game, a good locker room story. “There really wasn’t anything special or out of the ordinary. It was a business trip and we failed. It cost us the opportunity to play in what could have ended up being six consecutive national championship games.”
Then there was the question that all football fans across the country have been wondering ever since the Broncos broke out the blue turf and it was seen on tv for the first time by sports fans everywhere. What was it like playing on that blue turf? The answer for us fans, was quite boring, and maybe a little disappointing. “Other than the bird committing suicide, I never really noticed the color. I do remember some heaters they had under the turf, but they didn’t work outside of the hashes.” Well, at least we know the urban legends about birds trying to fly into the field/lake are true.
As it was from the years 1992 through 1996, the Division 1-AA National Championship game was held at Marshall. The Herd played and won the games in 1992 and 1996, and lost in 1993 and 1995. Ferguson was asked if he attended the game in 1994 between Boise State and Youngstown State, a game won by the Penguins 28 to 14. He said, “I didn’t go. I didn’t even watch the game, didn’t want to watch the game. It made me sick to think some other player was sitting in my locker.” Marshall of course would bounce back nicely, making the game with a true freshman quarterback in 1995 (Chad Pennington), and then winning the 1996 National Championship in a “Perfect” season which wrapped up the Herd’s reign in 1-AA. Marshall would move up to 1-A in the 1997 season.
Ferguson has moved on to a very successful career in sales, and is very reputable in the Huntington community. His son is following in his dads footsteps and is an excellent athlete. I have known Aaron for quite some time. He is the only person I know who was an All American football player, and All Conference baseball player, a near scratch golfer and at one point, years back of course, could dunk a basketball. He was one of those guys that began to change the type of player the Herd recruited along the offensive line. Gone were the large guys that could barely move, replaced with ridiculous athletes who could do it all.
Ferguson helped revitalize one of the local youth football leagues, and now helps with the Offensive line at nearby Spring Valley High School.
I asked Ferguson what he thought about the recent signing of the series between Marshall and Boise State, he said, “Im excited about it. We need to continue playing better competition and that is what (Mike) Hamrick is getting for us. And I hope we …..” Well, lets just say he hopes that we win the games handily.
Click the link below and discuss the article, the game, and also see a you tube video of same game film from the 1994 game between Marshall and Boise.
Stay tuned to Herdhaven for further stories from former players, and soon to be players from across the country.