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Who Was Marshall: Answers For The Team Who Died Together In A Plane Crash 1970

We Are Marshall

I missed it at the movies and forgot about it by the time it went into the stores.  I wished I hadn’t.  But now, I’ve heard the story when I caught it tonight on TNT.

First of all, I have to say that I hate movies like We Are Marshall.  The constant tugging you feel in your throat throughout the movie because you’re desperately trying to hold back the tears.

  • In scenes like when the new Marshall coaches went to WVU to get a few tips and they just happened to see on the back of the WVU helmets a memorial to M.U.
  • In scenes like when the University President stood in the rain at the NCAA building just to get a chance to talk to anyone who would listen.
  • In scenes like when Coach Lengyel takes his team to a Springhill Cemetery where six of the 1970 Marshall football players lay in their final destination because their bodies could not be identified.
  • Or when Nate Ruffin has to be told, “You’ve done enough Nate.  You’ve done enough.”  And the weight of the world is lifted off his shoulders.
  • The actual footage at the end.

I cried like a kid who dropped his ice cream.  So, that’s not good.

But, just like always I was on a mission to learn the most I could about a team who was lost to a plane crash and the team who replaced them.

we are marshallJack Lengyel took over as coach in 1971 and lead the team to a 2-8 season.  Former President Richard Nixon wrote a letter to the team.  Coach Lengyel read the letter to the team on the first day of practice.

“Friends across the land will be rooting for you, but whatever the season brings, you have already won your greatest victory by putting the 1971 varsity squad on the field,” Richard Nixon.

we are marshallRed Dawson was a coach for the 1970 team.  He missed the flight because he had to drive to do some recruiting after the game.  He coached for one season with Coach Lengyel to help get the new team on its feet.  He never returned to football.

From bits and pieces I picked up from reading article after article, here is the team:
Returning players who missed the flight.
Felix Wright
Nate Ruffin
Eddie Carter who went home for his father’s funeral and had not joined the team in North Carolina because his mother mentioned being worried the plane would crash.
Returning sophomores who had been freshman ineligibles the year before.
Reggie Oliver
Rick Meckstroth
John Johnsonbaugh
Jack Crabtree

When the NCAA made an exception for Marshall University to allow freshmen to play varsity in 1971, freshmen joined and were called the “Young” Thundering Herd.
Allen Meadows
Ned Burks
Bob Esbaugh
Eric Gessler
Charles “Chuck” Henry, who was inducted into the Marshall Athletic Hall of Fame
Players from other sports were also recruited.
Dave “Bubba” Smith had previously played basketball

The first time the new team took a plane in the 1971 season, there were some eerie-feeling instances.  At the time, the airports offered life insurance policies for a quarter through vending machines.  That day, quarters were being dropped left and right.

As the team boarded the plane, there was another plane close by being unloaded.  A silver casket was on-board.
When the team returned home, from the plane they could see the site of the 1970 crash.

It truly is an amazing story!

To view the 1970 team, click 1970 Marshall.
To see who played for the 1971 team, click 1971 Marshall.

From nothing, comes something.  Walking on the field was victory enough.  Putting pieces back together.  Moving forward even though every muscle in your body just wants to stop.  Taking on the rolls of true heroism and taking them on with grace.

“They were a triumph of the human spirit,” Jack Lengyel

The Herald Dispatch has dedicated an entire site to the 1970 crash and the community it affected.  One myth from the movie about the community who stayed after the Xavier football game is that they didn’t take to the field.  They stayed in the stands, most cried deep tears of pain.

If you are like me and you like to look into details out of curiosity, don’t look for the football jersey number 29 or the football player Paul Griffen.  They played such a big part in the movie.  But, they were composite characters.  To fit the entire community and the entire range of emotion into a movie, the lives of several people were combined into one character.  Paul Griffen can’t be found in the 1970 Marshall football team roster nor can the jersey number 29.  His fiance Annie Cantrell is also a composite character who represents the lives of plenty of people in the community who lost a loved one and found it hard to move forward.

At Springhill Cemetery there are six unidentified bodies buried from the plane crash:
Dave Griffith 81, Tom Brown 65, Kevin Gilmore 24, Barry Winston Nash 35, Allen Gene Skeens 59, and Tom Zborill 62 are those six unidentified football players.

Nate Ruffin has since passed away and now also is buried with his former teammates at Springhill Cemetery.

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