Former "Young Thundering Herd" Player Asks the Fallen 75 be Honored by Excellence

by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter
Former "Young Thundering Herd" Player Asks the Fallen 75 be Honored by Excellence

You had to pay close attention to the words of Mayor Elect Steve Williams to uncover nuances to a city renaissance lead by fervent supporters of the  mid 1970s Young Thundering Herd. Williams, president of the university’s M Club, played football during the cringing, heartbreaking, loyalty testing  years of 1974-1977.

Williams referenced  those rise from the ashes years when the re-building MU football team posted at best less than a 25% win percentage. Sounding a little like an experienced coach, Williams told his transition team,  “I’ve found typically it’s a little  miniscule millimeter that will  take us either to prosperity or failure.”

Thus, it comes as no surprise that retired Judge Dan O’Hanlon, chairman of the Mayoral Transition Team, challenged those serving to “take the ball and move it down the field.” The team will not pass or run for a touchdown at Joan C. Edwards Stadiums, they will  determine by December 20, the number one priority in Public Works, Public Safety, Finance and Economic Development.

Recruited by Jack Lengyel in 1974 as a quarterback, Williams is the only member of the Young Thundering Herd or a member of the Thunder Herd football team post 1970 who has served in city government administration, city council, the state legislature and come Jan. 1, 2013, mayor.

The legacy of the fallen, struggling and rising Sons of Marshall will follow the Mayor Elect. He will place a photo of the 1970 team in his office.

Foreshadowing the many "hats" juggled by a Mayor, when Williams  took the field back at Fairfield Stadium, he played a flanker, wingback,  quarterback, split end and  tight end, the team’s four year record was 9-35, which included one year with a single victory and  two years of only two wins each.

“During my junior year, in two games, I played all five positions in each game,: the versatile Williams recalled. That year the Herd finished with four wins, including an upset of nationally ranked Miami (Ohio), 21-16. According to newspaper records, the Associated Press thought the report was a mistake; they asked that it be repeated before printing the score nationwide.

While the football team’s rise to national prominence has earned it rise from ashes phoenix symbolism, the City of Huntington crashed into the trees too. The air crash took the lives of numerous business and civic  leaders who had flown to the game. During the transition meeting, Williams credited Kirk Dodrill for opening his jewelry store during a “downtown depression” in 1984.

Here’s how the former player (and incoming mayor) intends to honor the team that never made it back to Huntington, WV:

Memorial Fountain
Memorial Fountain
(c) 2012 Glen Berry

“When I played in the 1970’s I was taught how to deal with adversity. I experienced a love from the people of Huntington. I still see people today who sat through our disappointing games. Our record showed no indication of success…however, when the teams began to win in the mid 1980’s and went to the National Championship game in 1987 our efforts were validated. In the game that Marshall won against Appalachian State to go their first National Championship in 1987, Several of my teammates by happenstance met walking out of the stands in Boone, NC. We simply stood together in silence with tears in our eyes knowing that we had finally discovered the meaning of our struggles in the 1970’s. We were winners because we didn’t quit. The players were standing on our shoulders. We finally were able to hold our heads high.

"I constantly stop by the Spring Hill Cemetery Memorial for a quiet visit. Every visit I encounter a family member of the crash or a member of our community. Often times we silently acknowledge one another and proceed with our quiet remembrance. Many times, though, I have been able to have a meaningful conversation with a surviving family member. My in-laws are buried in the shadow of the Monument. I believe the Crash Memorial is Holy Ground.

"Huntington nearly died after the crash. It is no coincidence in my mind that the city soon after began a deep decline because the heart of the City’s leadership perished in the crash. Only now, the children and grandchildren of those who perished are positioned to lead our city.

We say….”We will never forget.” But I believe we can also say, “We will never give up.”

Huntington is transformed. We have arisen from the ashes. We stand in Their honor.

For these reasons and so many others…each family member of the crash victims who live in the area are going to be invited to attend the Inaugural Ceremony. We stand on the shoulders of their family members.

The portrait of the 1970 Marshall Football Team will hang in my office. It  will serve as a reminder to all who enter my office of the legacy of our city.

The crash defined us as a community. It still defines us today. We are survivors…and stand on the shoulders of greatness. Greatness and excellence is demanded of us all in honor of the 75."

The Fallen Inscribed on the Fountain Memorial
The Fallen Inscribed on the Fountain Memorial
(c) 2012 Glen Berry

 

 

 

 

 

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