Oliver was one of the members of that 1971 team who nearly made a street-to-street sweep of the Columbus, Ohio area to find Gardner, age 53, to sign a release so his name could be used in the upcoming Warner Brothers movie, "We Are Marshall," according to the Marshall coach of that era, Jack Lengyel. "Reggie was just about driving up and down streets, looking at mailboxes," Lengyel said Monday night on the Insider Statewide show. "Then there was a problem with the fax machine Terry sent his paperwork in on. We were down to the deadline, so Reggie took him to the UPS Store to fax it to Marshall, but it got there after 5 p.m. and Marshall was closed. His teammates (from 1971) Allen Meadows and Roger Hillis got a janitor to open the building so they could get the paperwork to the film people before the deadline, or they would have had to call the player playing Terry by a generic name." Gardner's play will be a focal point of the upcoming movie, which will be released on December 22, with a premier in Huntington scheduled for December 12. The trailer for the movie will debut at halftime of the Marshall home opener with Hofstra on September 9, a 4:30 p.m. kickoff.
A player who was remembered for his upbeat attitude, Oliver said Gardner had been having some breathing problems, preventing him from attending any of the movie filming back in the spring in Huntington or a recent rally in Charleston, W.Va., attended by Oliver and Lengyel. "He also had a great smile," said Oliver. "You could look at his face and know he was listening attentively, then he would break out in a big old grin. He was a great young man and I'm glad to have played ball with him. His motor was always going 100 miles an hour."
Gardner joined the "Young" Thundering Herd in 1971, following the plane crash that killed 37 team members and five coaches, 75 persons, fans, athletic administrators, media and crew of a Southern Airways plane bring Marshall back from a game at East Carolina in 1970. He was one of 31 freshmen who joined many sophomores who sat out in 1970 under freshman ineligible rules to form the nucleus of the Marshall football team in '71 for Lengyel. Gardner was an honorable mention All-State back for West Portsmouth, Ohio, just 45 miles from the Marshall campus in Huntington, W.Va. He scored 60 touchdowns for West, rushing for over 1,000 yards in both his junior and senior seasons for coach Tom Swain, and earned four letters in football and track in high school as an All-Southern Ohio Conference and All-District selection. The 6-foot, 198 pound fullback was third in rushing for the Herd in 1971 and scored only one receiving touchdown, but it was huge.
Marshall trailed Xavier in front of a sell-out crowd at Fairfield Stadium, 13-9, with just over two minutes to play. Marshall drove the field on a 10-play drive and then had a play for the ages. Oliver rolled right, taking most of the Musketeer defense with him, then threw back to the left to Gardner. With tackle Jack Crabtree throwing the key block on the only XU player with a chance to make a tackle, Gardner raced into the south end zone at Fairfield for the victory, 15-13, with no time on the clock, setting off a celebration that had as many tears as cheers. Marshall would win one other game that season, 12-10 over Bowling Green for Homecoming, finishing 2-8 after many outsiders thought the program should have been discontinued after the crash.
Gardner rushed for one touchdown and 138 yards on 58 carries in 1971, third on the team, and was also third in receiving with 11 catches for 107 yards and the touchdown against Xavier. He also returned one kickoff for 20 yards. Marshall only scored seven touchdowns that entire 1971 season for the "Young" Thundering Herd. In 1972 Marshall was again 2-8 and Gardner was second on the team in rushing with 99 carries, tops on the squad, for 293 yards and one touchdown. He had four receptions for another 25 yards. In 1973, Gardner had 40 carries for 104 yards and two scores, as well as five receptions for 102 yards and one additional touchdown for the 4-7 Thundering Herd.
Gardner was moved to linebacker for his senior season, making four solo tackles and four assists as the Herd slipped to 1-10, with four losses by three points or less in Lengyel's final season as head coach for Marshall football. Gardner's career numbers were 197 carries for 535 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Gardner also caught 20 passes for 234 yards and two more scores, adding eight tackles and one kickoff return for 20 yards. Gardner is survived by his wife, Gwen, and funeral arrangements were still incomplete on Tuesday morning.