The Marshall Football Tragedy Still Remembered Forty-Three Years Later


On this day in 1970, one of the biggest sports tragedies in history occurred. A plane crash that killed 75 members of the University of Marshall football team and staff, it sent shock waves through the United States. It took years for the program to recover, after a trip went wrong after a close loss to East Carolina.

The details of the crash will never be known but there was known but weird how the team originally planned to cancel the flight, which makes it even more a tragedy. The team had never truly flown because all the road games were within distance to take a bus back to campus.

According to the Airline Accident Report it stated

“The crew established radio contact with air traffic controllers at 7:23 pm with instructions to descend to 5,000 feet. The controllers advised the crew that there was “rain, fog, smoke and a ragged ceiling” at the airport, making landing more difficult but not impossible. At 7:34 pm, the airliner’s crew reported passing Tri-State Airport’s outer marker. The controller gave them clearance to land. The aircraft began its normal descent after passing the outer marker, but did not arrest its descent and hold altitude at 1240 ft, as required by the assigned instrument approach procedure. Instead, the descent continued for another 300 ft for unknown reasons, apparently without either crewmember seeing the airport lights or runway.” from

A lot of new rules were advocated to give Marshall an attempt to compete. They let recruits that went to Marshall become eligible as freshman, which then became the case for all schools. Jack Lengyel had the ever difficult task of rebuilding not just a football team but the community of Huntington, WV.

Students of the school and members of other teams joined the squad to help a reeling community. They managed to pull off a 15-13 upset over Xavier (OH), that first season. Lengyel’s record in his tenure at Marshall was a dismal 9-33 record, but the record doesn’t represent the impact he had. Some talks around the town were to not have football played for a while but he kept them alive.

Marshall was able to become relevant again and that 1970 team will always be remembered, in fact there was a movie made in 2007 called “We Are Marshall,” movies aren’t always the best depiction of the story but it covers the mainframe of the story. Don’t forget in the 90’s NFL stars came out of Marshall, Patriots HOF’er Troy Brown, Former Vikings/Patriots/Raiders WR Randy Moss, Former Jets/Dolphins QB Chad Pennington and Pittsburgh backup QB Byron Leftwich among many others.

Had the school pulled the plug, these players probably would’ve made impacts elsewhere and not in the community of Huntington. This still stands as the greatest comeback of any NCAA program in any sport, not even SMU or Penn St. can ever top it, and that’s the true verdict.

I’ll leave you with  YouTube clips “It Happened in the Fall” and a short news cast of the tragedy. Tomorrow just remember the lives lost and keep in mind that lives can end on such short notice.

Photo Courtesy of the AP-Photo Files


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