2003 is also the 100th anniversary for four different, but important, parts of Marshall football. First, it was in 1903 the Herd took the first documented team picture that featured three new things for the less than a decade old program:
1) Featured in the picture was the first coach in the history of the Marshall football program, Marshall College Professor of History George Ford, an 1899 graduate of West Virginia University. He would coach Marshall for two seasons, going 3-1-1 in 1903 and 1-3-3 in 1904.
2) In the picture was the first captain named in Marshall history, quarterback Roy Grass. Grass would captain and quarterback the team in both 1903 and 1904. 14 Marshall quarterbacks returned to Huntington for Saturday's opener, including Ralph May, Jim Maddox, Reggie Oliver, Dave Walsh, Carl Fodor and John Gregory, who is a sideline reporter on the Marshall television network.
3) Finally, Marshall wore "Green and White" uniforms in the picture, documenting for the first time a Marshall team wearing what would become the school colors (which up to that point had been blue and black. Think of those headlines!). Marshall made the 2003 debute in the same uniforms the team has worn since 1993, the longest stretch in school history without a major change to the uniform of the Herd.
The Pride of Hofstra University made its second-ever visit to Huntington. The also-known-as Flying Dutchmen gave Marshall a scare in 1995 in a 30-28 Herd win that turned out to be Coach Jim Donnan's final regular season game as coach at Marshall. On Saturday, the Herd won for current Head Coach Bob Pruett his 81st win (continuing his Marshall coaching record for wins by a coach. Cam Henderson is second all-time with 68 wins) against only 13 loses since 1996. Pruett's teams have only lost once at MU Stadium in 51 games and with the win over Hofstra Marshall is 20-0 verses I-AA teams.
It was game number 985 all-time for Marshall, with a record of 485-454-46 in all football games since the first game in 1895, a 36-0 shutout loss to the Tomcats of nearby Ashland, Kentucky, High School in a game that celebrated the completion of a bell tower on the front of "Old Main," Marshall's oldest building and still home to university administrators. The bell tower is long gone but football goes on, staring the 104th season of Thundering Herd football (no football 1896, or 1918 and 1943-45, due to World Wars I and II) with a win 45-21 over the Pride, as MU now prepares to play at Tennessee and in front of the largest crowd to ever see Marshall football in person (at least 105,000 expected).
The team has rallied from that first loss to post a record of 65-31-8 in 104 years in season openers. The Herd continued to be even better in home openers, now with a 78-21-5 mark, and winning 20 straight home openers. Marshall has not lost at home in the opening game since Illinois State beat Marshall, 27-3, in 1983.
At Marshall University Stadium, the Herd has never lost an opener since the first game in 1991, a nail-biting 24-23 win over the Wildcats of New Hampshire, a perfect 12-0 at MU Stadium openers. This was the first time Marshall has opened verses Hofstra. Morehead State University holds the mark for most Marshall openers with 27 games, although the last time was 1994 when the series was discontinued as Morehead opted to go non-scholarship I-AA.
Marshall has only five losses at MU Stadium. Only Appalachian State (twice, in 1992 and 1995), Youngstown State (in the 1993 National Championship), Montana (in the 1995 National Championship) and Western Michigan (2000), the only Mid-American Conference team to win at Marshall in 29 games since MU rejoined the MAC in 1997 and Pruett's teams are 50-1 since 1996 at home.
The opener in 1991 produced the second largest crowd in stadium history, with 33,116 saw the inaugural game with New Hampshire, outdrawing the West Virginia game earlier in the day. The stadium record in 33,204, set against Miami in 1998. The season opening game has also produced the eighth largest crowd in stadium history (31,042 verses Appalachian State in 2002) and the tenth largest (30,225 verses Southeast Missouri State in 2000). I-AA teams have provided five of the top ten crowds, while the MAC is responsible for the other five.
The Herd played a game in August for only the ninth time in school history. Marshall did not play a game in August through the first 90 years of the program, not even starting practice until school began in early September up through the 1960's. As late as 1981, Marshall did not open the season until September 12. This year's team will play its third game of the season on that date against Tennessee.
The very first August game came in a win against WVU Tech, 30-0, on August 31 in the 1985 opener for coach Stan Parrish's second season. Tech came back to open the George Chaump era in 1986, losing 42-0 on August 30, 1986. Since then, Marshall has opened in August in 1991 (losing 9-3 at Appalachian State on the 31st), in 1995 (losing 33-16 at North Carolina State on August 31st), in 1997 (losing 42-31 at West Virginia on August 30th), in 2000, (beating Southeast Missouri State 63-7) and 2002 (beating Appalachian State 50-17 on August 31st). Marshall is now 5-3 all-time in August, 5-0 at home.