WVU’s Throwback Helmet Was Missing Something…

"We Are Marshall," 2006.
“We Are Marshall,” 2006.

By Jeremy T.K. Farley

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — November 14, 2015, marked the 45th anniversary to one of the greatest tragedies in West Virginia’s storied history — the date 75 individuals, including 37 members of the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team and 25 boosters died in a fiery plane crash roughly one mile from their ultimate destination, the Tri-State Airport in Huntington. 

To commemorate this dreadful day, Marshall’s team began the day with a memorial service and continued the observance on the field, wearing black uniforms and helmets bearing the number 75 — commemorating the 75 victims of the disaster.

The 1970 crash occurred just hours after the Herd lost in the final play of an away game to the East Carolina Pirates by a score of 14-17.

As is the case with any tragedy, the crash of the chartered Southern Airways flight sent the Mountain State into a condition of disbelief, with the state’s frazzled governor being overheard near the crash site exclaiming, “No…Oh, God. No. This can’t be happening…”

In the years to follow, various memorials and symbols would be erected across the nation to commemorate the memory of the 75 lives that ended all too soon.

These memorials included a granite cenotaph at the Spring Hill Cemetery in Huntington, a memorial fountain on the campus of Marshall University, as well as a memorial plaque placed inside the guest team’s entrance at East Carolina University.

Three hours to the north of Huntington, a young coach at West Virginia University named Bobby Bowden also did his part to honor the memory of the lost Thundering Herd.

Bowden asked the NCAA for permission to wear Marshall jerseys and play Marshall’s final game of the 1970 season against Ohio, however, his request was denied.

In memory of the victims of the crash, Mountaineer players put green crosses and the initials “MU” on their white helmets, a move that was depicted in the 2006 film, We Are Marshall.

In the years ahead, great changes would be witnessed at both of the Mountain State’s football programs.  Marshall would lose more games throughout the 1970s than any other team in the nation, only to bounce back in the decades ahead, securing AA national championships and additional conference titles in the NCAA’s top division.

Mountaineer fans would also witness great changes as well, Bobby Bowden would move on to Florida State, where he became a coaching legend.  Pressing forward, the ‘Eers would endure a carousel of coaches, as men like Cignetti, Nehlen, Rodriguez, Stewart and now Holgorsen steered the program to moderate successes.

In addition to coaching changes, fans of the state’s flagship school would also see their helmets changed, as the retro white helmets featuring “WVU” were replaced with sleek dark blue headgear displaying the iconic “Flying WV.”

On this day, however, November 14, 2015, the Mountaineers took to the field of Milan Puskar Stadium with a throwback look, wearing helmets very similar to those they wore during that dreadful season 45-years ago.

As the 2015 Mountaineers ran onto the field sporting the throwback look this afternoon, my heart swelled with Mountaineer pride as I thought back to the scene in We Are Marshall, when Matthew McConaughey, portraying Marshall coach Jack Lengyel, saw the white WVU helmets with the green “MU” on the back and stated, “First class, coach.  First class.”

“That is nice,” I whispered to my wife, delighted that the state I love so dearly was standing as one on this tragic anniversary.

In the minutes ahead, I realized I had been mistaken.  The helmets were nearly identical to the ones Bobby Bowden’s Mountaineers wore back in 1971, only they were missing a green cross and “MU.”

I know it’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback (or in this case a Saturday night writer), but as a West Virginia fan who bleeds blue and gold, it just saddens me to know that we missed such a great opportunity to honor our fellow West Virginians.  On this date, we should all be Marshall.

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  1. WVU’s colors are gold and blue, not blue and gold. Before you say the order doesn’t matter, it does. PItt is “blue and gold.”

  2. It is no surprise that WVU failed to honor MU on their throwback helmets. The past 20 years the 2 schools have met on the field which has created a rift between fans and coaches of the 2 schools. The WVU coaches themselves have made disparaging remarks about Marshall when asked if they should play each other. WVU seems to think they are such higher in stature they should not degrade themselves by playing their smaller rival to the south, even though they play other non-conference schools that are smaller than Marshall. In fact, both Holgerson and Huggins have made wise cracks referring to MU during interviews with the press, and in one display that totally seemed to be a direct slam, Huggins made comments that not only insulted Marshall, but the entire city of Huntington in front of the student body. This got a rousing round of applause from WVU fans. I’m sure that when it came time to prepare the throwback helmets Holgerson had the opportunity to show some class and honor the memory of not only the 1970 team, but Bobby Bowden, who showed tremendous respect by displaying the green cross on their helmets that year. I guess this says a LOT about the class and respect of WVU current coaching staffs, or the absence thereof.

  3. Uh, WVU never put the green cross or MU on their helmets. Nor did they give us access to their film room. This scene was put in the movie at Governor Manchin’s request. WVU’s throwback unis were accurate.

    • I’m afraid you are mistaken, Brian.

      Read the following article from Tuesday, December 19, 2006, article from the “Florida Times-Union” (http://jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/121906/spf_6895455.shtml#.Vkjlv_ldW70)
      “To honor Marshall’s victims, Bowden had a cross and the MU initials put on the back of the helmets of West Virginia’s players during his 1971 spring practice. That gesture, and coming to the rescue of a program overwhelmed by grief and on-field obstacles, remains with Jack Lengyel to this day.”

  4. Moderate success really. What major bowl has MU played in. How many times has MU played for the D1 championship. Oh that’s right ZERO. I honor the memory of MU players but hate all MU fans like these above who think that 1aa championship are so great.

  5. Since WVU got the new uniforms we have worn that helmet at home against either Texas or Oklahoma. That helmet had nothing to do with Marshall

  6. Marshall was never a member of “Division-two”. They were division 1-AA, which is a huge difference. Thanks for your article though. Go Herd!

  7. I don’t think the helment choice was to commemorate marshal. They wore it against texas in 2013 and kstate in 2014 neither game was during November 14th.

    • No one is saying that the helmet choice was to commemorate Marshall… that is the whole premise of the article!

      • It certainly was a tragedy now remembered by those who were affected in some way back then and by persons in today’s Marshall family. However, You just stirred a crock of s…. Why would anyone in WVUs athletic dept. recall that the team would be wearing throwback helmets on the anniversary of the plane crash? Do you think outside of the Charleston/Huntington media market people know It was the anniversary?

        • Uh?? ESPN knew and did a nice article on Gameday. Why does everyone take a decent article and turn it into this constant bickering? We are two state universities, we are not going to play anymore, so let’s move on and go our separate ways and represent our state as we should.

  8. Bowden is all class. But aside from that, Marshall and WVU will never play. Several years ago, I thought we should’ve been playing every year. WVU wants nothing to do with that. On one hand, they say, ” Marshall will NEVER beat WVU.” On the other hand, they say, “WVU has nothing to gain by playing Marshall.” What they fail to add, it the “everything to lose” part. They can’t have it both ways. I think it’s a chicken **** thing with them. Every state (seemingly) has an interstate rivalry, except West Virginia. In the end, I’m glad we’re not playing. Just too much hatred from our northern breathren. I wish we’d cancel all events and discontinue all ties we have with them.

  9. I can’t believe people argue so much over MU & WVU. Why can’t people be proud there are two good teams representing West Virginia in their own ways. I’m probably younger then most negative fans but I’ll tell you on thing I have respect for both teams, I only wish more people would do them same.

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