Throw in a number of former Marshall stars who now shine in the NFL, including the Oakland Raider's standout wide out Randy Moss; the New York Jets' quarterback Chad Pennington; and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' center John Wade, plus about 80 of their 1996 MU teammates who were in town to celebrate the 10th year anniversary of the 15-0 National and Southern Conference Champions, the best team ever in I-AA, who were all in attendance and assisting the MU coaches on the sidelines. In addition, the "We Are Marshall" director McG and producer Basil Iwanyk were filming scenes for the movie, having their crew shoot both the crowd from numerous spots and even using a helicopter to use in the movie. They also shot WSAZ sportscaster Keith Morehouse calling action of the game, as his dad, Gene, did for Marshall in the 1969 and 1970 seasons before dying in the crash on November 14, 1970, that took 37 members of the Marshall football team, five coaches, five members of the Southern Airways crew and numerous staff, like Morehouse, and fans and members of the Marshall family. One of the coaches of that team, Red Dawson (who drove back on recruiting duties) was also on the sidelines on Saturday.
Mike Kirtner of Kindred Communications did the public address on the field, with head coach Mark Snyder talking about the team, with the fans and giving away door prizes, including trips to NFL games from those ‘96 players and a Warner Bros. trip to Atlanta and part in the filming of the football scenes, and having a great time on a picture-perfect April afternoon at Joan C. Edwards Stadium on the corner of "Herd" Avenue and "Marshall Memorial Boulevard" in Huntington. Also on the sidelines were NFL stars like Troy Brown of the New England Patriots and Mike Bartrum of the Philadelphia Eagles, stars of the 1992 MU National Champions, who will again hold their camp, the Bartrum-Brown Football Camp, in Huntington and, thanks to Coach Snyder and MU President Stephen Kopp (who was also formerly sworn in by Gov. Joe Manchin as the President of Marshall on Friday), will move the camp to Edwards Stadium for 2006. Nate Poole, Steve Sciullo, John Spellacy, John Gregory and many other former players who were not members of the 1996 team were also on hand Saturday.
Oh, by the way, speaking of the game, the Thundering Herd football team wrapped up spring practice as the White took a 17-0 win over the Green. "This is a great day for Huntington and Marshall University," Snyder said. "Today was about our 1996 team, the "We Are Marshall" movie and the fans. I was hoping for a crowd of close to 15,000, but to have more than 17,000 it truly amazing. It is a great time to be a Herd fan."
How did all the planets line up in perfect symmetry for the biggest spring football game event in the 110-year history of Marshall football? There were many people, some you know about and some behind the scenes, that made this event the success it was. From day one as head football coach at Marshall Mark Snyder made the commitment to reach out to former Thundering Herd players and embrace his alma mater's tradition like never before. That mantra has permeated through the entire Marshall football program and is a big reason why Saturday's Green and White game will be remembered as one of the greatest events in school history.
"When Mark took over the program one of his biggest goals was to get our former players more involved with the program and make sure they new they were a big part of our family," Marshall Assistant Athletic Director for Football Operations Mark Gale said. "He invited Troy Brown to speak to the team following that first practice and in every single game last year brought back a former player as an honorary coach." That was just the beginning. The very first honorary coach at last season's William & Mary game was none other than 1996 team member Brian Reed. Ironically, Reed had already been contacted by John Wade and Randy Moss about the possibility of doing something special for the 1996 team.
"It started more than a year ago when I got a phone call from John Wade saying that Randy Moss had just pulled up at his house and they were reminiscing about 1996," Reed said. "They brought up the idea of having a reunion and a few days later Randy (Moss) called to follow up and the ball was rolling." Reed was faced with the daunting task of tracking down his former teammates and planning a reunion to include hundreds of people. One of his first phone calls was to the Marshall football office. "I called Coach Gale and from day one everyone in the football office and at Marshall was extremely helpful," Reed said.
Reed soon met with Gale and Snyder, and Marshall's football office assisted him in tracking down all of the 1996 players and their families. But, it did not stop there. The Marshall Athletic Department became heavily involved and Snyder committed his staff and the Marshall Quarterback Club to making the weekend a memorable one for the 1996 team members and their families. During this time, Marshall alums Randy Moss and Chad Pennington took the additional step of giving back by endowing a scholarship in the 1996 team's name and starting a football foundation that will provide a vehicle for former players to give back to the football program. "Coach Snyder and his staff was instrumental in pulling all of this off. I can't say enough about what Marshall did for us," Reed said. "Coach Snyder came to us with open arms and he was great. Everyone at Marshall was awesome."
Marshall Athletics provided the 1996 team with contact information for hotels and restaurants and sponsors, assisted in the planning and operations of the event – right down to helping the '96 team secure minivans for activities. Mark George and the MU Quarterback Club also concentrated all of their efforts into making the day work by incorporating the 1996 team in all spring game activities from the raffles to the game program. In fact, Snyder and athletic director Bob Marcum made it a directive to see that the 1996 team was given everything necessary for this to be a success. "With the 10-year anniversary this year, they wanted everyone to come back for a really special event and the Green-White Game was perfect for the NFL guys," Reed told the Insider Statewide audience last week before the event. "All the credit goes to Brian," said Pennington on the show at the banquet this past Thursday. "He made it all happen on this end."
Marshall celebrated Marshall more than anything else on what turned out to be a spectacular day for the Thundering Herd. Nearly all of Marshall's 1996 National Championship team that recorded a remarkable 15-0 record was in attendance. This group, which includes many professional football players like Wade, Moss, Pennington, John Grace (Calgary/CFL), B.J. Cohen (Kansas City/Arena League), Ricky Hall (Tampa Bay/Arena League) and former NFL players like Billy Lyon, Erik Kresser, Jamie Wilson, Doug Chapman, Jason Starkey, Paul Toviessi and Giradie Mercer, most all returned to Huntington for three days of reunion activities that culminated with the Green-White game. Players who came back included Albert Barber, Buck Manning, Erik Thomas, Tim Martin, Jermaine Swafford, John Duncan, Scott Smythe, Tim Openlander and local residents like Aaron Ferguson, Larry McCloud and Jason Wellman. It would be faster to tell you who couldn't come: Chris Hanson, who punted for the Herd and currently for the Jacksonville Jaguars, had scheduled his charity golf tournament months before on this date. He did send his best and regrets. "It's just been great to come back and see everyone and their families," Randy Moss said. "What we did in 1996 was special and to be able to come together this week with our family at Marshall has been great."
For the game to work, though, it took a considerable effort from the Marshall Quarterback Club and the MU athletic staff to coordinate the 1996 team, the current team, the Warner Bros. crew, this year's team and the over 17,000 fans who turned out. Start with the Quarterback Club and its president, Mark George of Pepsi Cola. He had Kroger was the title sponsor, both this year and next year, and lots of program sponsors who helped to get the ball rolling the past few months. George had the assistance of dozens of members, who were volunteering to take ticket money (headed up by Charlie Michaels of WV Steel and others); parking money ( Randy Dunfee and Greenie Greenstein and others); selling raffle tickets (Jay, John and Edna Justice, with others); and selling programs. Edna Justice, the longtime administrative assistant in football and for the QB Club, was very involved with the fund-raiser for the QB Club, which George estimated raised nearly triple the amount usually taken in at a spring game, probably over $80,000, (and that total may not include the $20,000 from "We Are Marshall" director McG, who hit 4-of-7 field goals for the donation, including a long of 35 yards).
"The Quarterback Club members and the Sideliners, headed up by Debbie Chambers, helped tremendously in the planning and execution of the game," said George. "We were helped so much in the game operation by Scott Morehouse and his staff; in the ticket area by Matt Monroe and his staff - they pre-sold nearly 4,000 tickets for the first time, plus another 1,000 purchased by Warner Bros., and then Monroe also sold 30 season tickets on Saturday for 1996. We were also helped by Randy Burnside and his sports information staff on the program. Rich Worner, who was the logistics liaision for the reunion, and his equipment staff, got HomeTown Sports Wear to donate 500 shirts to give the first persons on the West Lot and had the shirts made for the 1996 team. They were responsible for producing, then selling 79 of the 100 1971 keepsake helmets we had at the game. Zac Littleton and Dawn Kirtner were on the helmet sales all day, and we hope to sell the other 21 at the Big Green Dinner," said George. "Also, Rich and his staff, the strength staff and the Sports Medicine staff drove the shuttle buses for the dinner Thursday, the golf and dinner on Friday and getting the ‘96 team to the game and back to the Radisson on Saturday. I'd be remiss if I also didn't thank Mike Kirtner from Kindred Communications for handling the PA, all the publicity and making the game even more fun by working the PA on the field, with the raffles and all the stars."
Marshall's Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations, Randy Burnside, had to generate hundreds of media and participant passes, a rare job for a spring game that normally draws from 3,000-5,000 fans to the Edwards Stadium. Burnside also was the unofficial liaison for the Moss-Pennington press conference on Thursday before the 1996 team's banquet and had to work with the movie folks both in the press box and on the field during the game. He had national media to deal with, a first for the spring game including NFL Films, USA Today, NBC Sports, Fox Sports and ESPN, who were in Huntington to cover the game, the NFL players in attendance and the movie being filmed about the Thundering Herd football program. "My staff provided Pennington with lots of photos for their Thursday night banquet," said Burnside of the program that Pennington and Reed produced, having good-natured fun with teammates and head coach Bob Pruett. "We provided all the pictures and text for the game program, which is usually handled by the Quarterback Club. I was an athletic liaison for Keith Spears, Dave Wellman and Kemmeth Rivers, from University Communications, and with our Scott Morehouse, who had to handle the logistics of 17,000 fans, a movie crew, making sure the 1996 and 2006 Herd were ok during the walk to the Shewey Building from the M-Club Pavilion, including extra security with Matthew McConaughey making the walk.
"Let's face it, having McConaughey, Anthony Mackie, Katie Mara and David Strathairn being on the sidelines with McG, it was quite an undertaking. I thought Morehouse and his staff were exceptional on Saturday." Burnside also mentioned the souvenir poster produced by Isaiah Childers and the marketing staff, which featured a movie motiff. "Those first 1,000 were quickly picked up by fans," said Burnside of the poster. "It looks just like a movie poster you see at a theater, except it feature the 2006 schedule, Coach Snyder and players. It is really a collector's item." As usual, his Sports Information team still had to treat the game as a game, keeping stats, setting up interviews after the game, opening the press box to the movie making and making sure the radio crew was ok for the broadcast on WRVC 930 AM.
Oh, by the way, a tip of the hat to the "Voice of the Herd," Steve Cotton, for setting up his usual broadcast equipment for our call of the game. Also to the folks here at Kindred Communications, like Cameron Smith, Bill Hicks and Kenny Sellards, who not only set up two remotes, by "The Dawg" 93.7 FM and "The Planet" 92.7, but boarded our game and made sure on Thursday and Friday the equipment for the PA was in working order. As usual, there were the last-second adjustments, like the movie crew being on the same channel wirelessly as Rocky Smith, our sideline reporter, as well as a last-second tailgate decision to get Luke Beach, Greg Perry and yours truly on the air at 3 p.m. Also thanks to Alan Carr in the studio, not only good work during the game, but he had the podcast up on the web (www.wrvc.am) within 20 minutes of the end of the game for our out-of-state Herd fans, as well as the staffs of "The Dawg" and "The Planet."
Brad Helton, who is in charge of Marshall's athletic video department, was also involved both with the movie people and the ‘96 reunion. "We put together a DVD and audio CD for the 1996 team," said Helton, "of the highlight tape Jeff Perry and Keith Morehouse produced following the National Championship. We packaged it with audio of the National Championship game call. "Randy Burnside provided the photos for the cover, including the trophy, jersey and other images from 1996. We taped the Thursday night event, the Friday events, then got interviews with every 1996 player on the field Saturday as the exited the tunnel for their introductions." Helton also worked with the movie makers, providing football footage from 1970, 1971, 1987, 1996 and 1997. "Lots of it was easy, as I had all the video copied from your stuff, Woody," said Helton. "We also got video from East Carolina, when a former player walked in a month ago and gave them color film of the 1970 Marshall game there, the last game before the crash. The hair stood on my arms when I cued that footage up. We also provided Jack Lengyel with 1971 footage of the Veer offense he ran, so the movie people would be true to the ‘71 team execution in filming the Xavier game in Atlanta."
We would be remiss without a tip of the hat to Marshall Director of Athletics Bob Marcum and his staff, including Jeff O'Malley, David Steele, David Reed and others, who helped to make this a day to remember for the 2006 team, the 1996 team and the team from Warner Bros. Finally, Marshall football fans, give yourself a high-five, do the wave or just jump up and down to "Thunderstruck." You were the best ever for a spring game and no one will ever forget your great contribution to this outstanding game.