The most obvious involvement between the two schools, of course, happened on Nov. 14, 1970 when the plane carrying the Herd football team home from a game against ECU crashed on the hillside near Tri-State Airport killing the team, staff and fans on board. This was an incident that touched everyone involved in athletics everywhere but it it has weighed on the minds of MU fans for a little over three decades now.
However, it also had an impact on the ECU fans and many remember it every year and remember every detail about that day the same as Marshall fans do. As a result, several ECU fans sort of adopted Marshall as a school and a program that they would follow and root for in the long climb back from the crash.
Now, these two schools who met on that fateful day in November, 1970 will meet again in a bowl game which showcases the greatness of each school and shows how far both have come since that awful day.
Another connection between the two schools is ECU Athletics Director Mike Hamrick, who is a MU graduate and ex-football player for the Thundering Herd. In fact, he played and was the leading tackler in the only other game MU has played against ECU since the crash (in 1978). Mike Hamrick has interviewed for the Marshall Athletic Director's job at least once or twice but was never fortunate enough to be named to that position at Marshall and now he is a very successful Athletic Director at a school that will play his once beloved Herd in a bowl game.
A third connection is that both Marshall and East Carolina came to be 1A football powers by the same route, that being establishing a successful foundation in the Southern Conference. Both programs came to the higher level out of the Southern Conference after winning championships and dominating that league for a period of time. In fact, both schools have sent highly successful coaches on to the SEC: Jim Donnan from Marshall to Georgia, and Pat Dye from East Carolina to Auburn.
Both schools have, at one time, been adopted by fans from all over our country. Everyone loves an underdog and both MU and ECU get the kind of support that look at these two schools in the light of the childrens book, The Little Engine That Could. These two were supposed to be too small to take on the big time boys of college football but both schools have backed off from no one. Not only have they played some big boys, they also have beaten some of those big boys.
Both schools have had (and still have) very successful programs built around the QB and this year is a prime example: ECU with their QB David Garrard, and Marshall QB Byron Leftwich. These two are a couple of the best in the nation and should play on Sundays in the future.
The last connection I want to bring out is the Sonny Randle connection. Sonny has been the head football coach at each school and helped each to start out on the road to where they are now, playing each other in a bowl game. Sonny was very successful at ECU and won a conference Championship before leaving for UVA. At one time, he was a legend in the eastern part of North Carolina. I remember being in Wilmington, N.C. once when they named a new football coach in the area and instead of having the coach's name the headline said in one inch letters, "Former Randle Player Hired." I mean, it was like they had hired a former player of Vince Lombardi and most of the article was about how this guy was going to be so successful because he had played for Sonny.
Sonny didn't have that kind of success at Marshall, but I think he has never been given his proper due as the force that actually started Marshall football on the winning path that it's still on today. Sonny and his excellent staff which included Bob Pruett, Jim Grobe (now head coach at Wake Forest) and Steve Marshall (presently offensive line coach for the University of Colorado), somehow recruited enough good players to come to Marshall University and play in Fairfield Stadium to produce a winning team in Stan Parrish's first year at Marshall. Marshall has never looked back, only gotten better each year, and I really think Sonny Randle should get a lot more credit than he does.
So when East Carolina and Marshall kick it off on Wednesday it will be two schools whose paths have crossed many times and it will be an exciting game between two fine teams. I know a lot of Marshall fans were not too excited about playing a 6-5 East Carolina team, but I think that when they look at these connections between the two schools, and they also look at who the Pirates played and lost to (Wake Forest by two points; Syracuse by fourteen points, North Carolina by three points, Louisville by five points and Southern Mississippi by seven points) that Marshall fans will be and should be very excited about the game. If Marshall can pull out a victory against the Pirates, it should put them into about 20th in the polls and really help recruiting and 2002 poll positioning.
GO HERD!!!! BEAT THE PIRATES!!!!!!