Most of all, Miami must fight the Ghost of East Division Domination in the form of the Marshall team that has won six consecutive East titles since MU and Northern Illinois re-joined the MAC in 1997 and the league split for divisional play. Miami, under coaches like Woody Hayes (one title), Ara Parseghian (two titles), Bo Schembechler (two titles) and Dick Crum (three titles), was the dominate program in the MAC from 1947 through 1986. Miami won 13 titles in the league. They are the only school with double-diget football titles. Only Toledo is close with eight titles, but they won the last championship in Rocket history in 2001. Miami is on a 17-year title-less streak that includes no appearances in any bowls or the MAC title game.
There should be about 100 big hits in this Wednesday's game, like in every Marshall-Miami game since 1997. Even in the first year of divisional play, when Miami pulled away from the Herd to win in Oxford 45-21 (game tied at 21-21 with seven minutes to play on a day the Herd had seven turnovers), they found a way to lose the East Division by losing at Toledo 35-28 the followeing week. The 'Hawks have sat on the sides and watched Marshall win the East every year since that season (the Herd winning five of six MAC title games) and Miami has finished second in four of those six years. Particularly galling to the Miami faithful were two losses: the 10-1 season in 1998, losing only at Marshall 31-17 but not receiving any bowl consideration when the MAC only had a tie-in with the Motor City Bowl; and last season when the Herd pulled out a 36-34 win in Huntington over the RedHawks behind quarterback Stan Hill's first start. Hill scored the winning touchdown with five seconds to play, setting off a Miami coaching "circus" that included the staff in the press box trashing the visitor's coaches box, head coach Terry Hoeppner chasing the officials across the field and former Miami player/defensive coordinator Jon Wauford allegedly striking a celebrating Marshall fan for jumping up and down after the Herd's win. Coaches received suspensions for their antics in the box and Wauford eventually resigned his position. The image of a Miami coach in handcuffs after the loss was ugly, to say the least, and charges were eventually brought and dropped by the Marshall fan.
Hoeppner promised the fans of Miami in 1999 he and the team would again win the MAC but has thus far fallen short of the goal. The RedHawks have finished second in the East twice and third in two other seasons, including last season when the distraught 'Hawks went on to (following the Marshall loss) lose at UCF, 48-31, and allowing the Knight's to finish second in their first season in the league. Miami also finished behind Akron in 2000 and tied for third with Ohio.
Beating Marshall has become the "Holy Grail" for Hoeppner and his Miami team. When asked at media day in July about his Heisman campaign, "Where Have You Ben?" Ben Roethlisberger responded "Behind Marshall." Miami fans and athletic staff have talked nothing else since November of 2002...well, that's not quite accurate.
They have talked of a few other things since losing to Marshall. Like the child who always has an excuse for doing bad things, Miami has blamed Marshall fans for lodging "death" threats on-line, making it hard to eat pre-game without fear of harm. They have blamed the Marshall coaches, accusing the Herd staff of "bugging" the locker room when a Miami band director picked up ESPN's mikeing of injured MU QB Byron Leftwichc, or McDonald's drive-thru, or something else in his wireless headset that led him to the conclusion Marshall had "wired" the Miami dressing room. They also intimated Marshall may have had the "edge" when it came to officiating, although the pass interference calls were "no doubt" calls, especially thanks to the photo by a member of Miami's athletic family, who clearly showed Josh Davis of Marshall being held.
Miami has an edge in the all-time series, 29-9-1, but Marshall has won five games in a row. The Herd lost the first-ever meeting with Miami in 1905 and then the first four meetings in the Buckeye Conference. Marshall then won three in a row over Miami from 1937 (the Herd won the Buckeye champship that season), 1938 and 1939. The then-Redskins ran off 19 wins in 20 games (the Herd of Bob Pruett's playing days tied Miami 14-14 in 1963) between 1948 and 1975. A Marshall upset, 21-16 in 1976, was the only interuption as Miami won four more games through 1980 for a 23-1-1 mark during Marshall's streak of only five winning seasons between 1948 and 1984 (37 seasons). Miami is not used to losing to MAC teams. Only Ohio in the MAC has a five-game win streak against Miami, winning five straight 1960-64. Ohio started a six-game win streak in the Buckeye Conference (which folded in the summer of 1939), winning 1937-1942.
Wednesday night, at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN2, Miami will try to take the crown off the Herd's head. Extra police are being brought in, as police were pelted with bottles after Miami's win last week over Bowling Green when fans were prevented from running onto the field. Marshall can expect the usual from the Miami students behind the Herd's bench, hurling taunts and other, more damaging items at the team in green. The Herd, however, will certainly not go silently into that dark night. The night will be lit up for the second week in a row by Musco Portable Lighting as Yager Stadium still does not have lights, with Miami clinging to an eroding legacy of day football and MAC wins. Look for the Thundering Herd to clip the wings of the RedHawks again, returning to the "Marshall Invitational," better known as the MAC Championship, against a west team to be determined. Do not be surprised if it is not the Rockets of Toledo, setting up round five of a championship series between Marshall and Toledo. The Rockets host the Huskies of Northern Illinois this week and finish the season with their arch-rivals Bowling Green in the season finale. Why MU-UT again? These are the new days of MAC football and the ghosts of the past are in the past, for both Miami and Marshall. No asterisk for Marshall's sixth straight win over Miami, 30-21.