MCGILL: Miami Rivalry Rooted In Bitter Defeats, 1976 Upset
The Word on the Herd -- Aug. 28, 2017
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The embers of a college football rivalry will get stoked from time to time, and what was quietly brooding under the surface rages passionately once again.
There have been 43 meetings on the gridiron between Miami University and Marshall University. The first matchup came in 1905, a 35-5 Miami win. The last clash happened in 2014, a 42-27 Herd win that gave the good guys victories in eight of the last nine meetings in the heated series.
Those are merely bookends in a series that has featured its share of rivalry-escalating occurrences over the years. The Return (1971). The Upset (1976). The Punch (2002).
Forty-three meetings, but countless sources from which the roots of disdain have grown.
Here, one week before the Sept. 2 season opener between Miami and Marshall at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, the focus will be on the games played in ’71, ’76 and ’02. These are stories told through the eyes of people who watched an old-fashioned college football rivalry escalate into so much more.
Southern Airways Flight 932, which was carrying the Marshall football team, crashed on Nov. 14, 1970. Seventy-five people died, including 37 members of the football team, nine coaches, 25 boosters and four flight crew members.
Somehow, some way, Marshall rose from the ashes and rallied to field a football team in 1971. A mere 322 days later – in Marshall’s third game since the crash – Ohio neighbor Miami played hosts to the Young Thundering Herd. Hospitality was in short supply that day.
Marshall did not have quarterback Reggie Oliver that day. The rest of the Herd watched as Miami scored on 10 of 13 possessions. Marshall’s offense managed only two first downs, and its lone touchdown came on a blocked punt return.
A crowd of 12,649 saw Marshall finish with two total yards of offense – 23 passing and minus-21 on the ground. It was the Herd’s worst loss in 41 years.
Allen Meadows, a member of the Young Thundering Herd, remembers that day vividly. In fact, the 11 months leading to that game are seared into his memories forever.
Meadows was a high school teenager from Boone County who had a full scholarship offer to West Virginia University. He made the trip to Morgantown on a mid-November weekend to visit the Mountaineers and entertain a Mountain State boy’s dream of playing for WVU. He was hanging out in a dormitory when a girl walked in and said the Marshall football team’s plane had crashed.
He sat there stunned, and went back to his southern West Virginia home. He remembers Red Dawson approaching him about playing for Marshall, and Meadows’ heart pulled him to Huntington.
The Herd played Morehead State tough in the opener in 1971 and then stunned Xavier to set up the trip to Miami on Oct. 2, 1971. Meadows knew this was a Big Ten-style team with big bowl ambitions, and his inexperienced and undermanned team would see its greatest challenge yet.
“We came into town and we never dreamed about winning,” Meadows said. “They were a whole lot better than us.”
It was a sweltering afternoon in Oxford, Ohio. Meadows remembers the picturesque field and beautiful blades of grass beneath his feet. It was football nirvana … until the game started. That is when Meadows’ 185-pound body absorbed blow after blow from bigger, faster and stronger players. The Miami players had seemingly performed pregame background checks, and knew names and information about Marshall players. The Miami players taunted and disparaged at the line of scrimmage, even as the score got out of hand.
The Marshall coaching staff knew what it was up against, so they started cycling the youthful Herd in and out of the game to save the players’ bodies. Not Miami.
“We gave it everything we had and when we walked away at the end of the day, it was a sad day,” Meadows said. “The worst part is they never substituted. They played their first team the entire game. From that time on there was no Ohio U rivalry for us. It was all Miami.
“We hated Miami.”
The headline – Marshall shocks Miami – stood out in large, black font across the front of the newspaper on Sept. 12, 1976.
One day earlier, the Thundering Herd had upset No. 20 Miami, 21-16, at Fairfield Stadium. The win was so stunning that broadcasters repeated the score to reassure their audience that the outcome was correct.
“College football is littered with stories of David rising to smack down Goliath,” it read in the Herald-Dispatch the next morning. “Marshall University wrote another chapter for that history book yesterday before 11,732 stunned fans at Fairfield Stadium.”
It is uncertain how many people actually witnessed the game that day. All the Marshall players know is that there were far more in the stands when they exited the locker room after halftime than there were at kickoff hours earlier.
“When we came out to start the second half, we walked out and the whole student section was full,” said Steve Williams, Huntington’s mayor and a player on the 1976 team. “People were standing on their feet cheering. I’d never heard so much noise in Fairfield Stadium before.”
Marshall was 11-42 in its first five seasons after the 1970 plane crash, and the Herd had lost to Miami, 50-0, in 1975.
Williams wasn’t originally supposed to play in 1976 because of a back injury, but he noticed his pain had subsided and he could move around in warmups, so he got ready to play. He remembers his coach, Frank Ellwood, telling the team this:
“He said, ‘This game is made up on every single play with 11 separate competitions,’” Williams recalled. “‘You have to beat that man across from you.’”
The Herd did that and then some. Marshall rallied from a 9-0 deficit to lead 14-9 at halftime, and led by as much as 21-9 before a late 28-yard fumble return made the game appear closer than it actually was.
“We kicked their butts all over the field that day,” Williams said. “We were wearing their heads out the entire game, right down to the last whistle.”
The win was redemption for the Herd, which had not defeated Miami since 1939, and a program that remembered the bitter disappointment of the 60-point drubbing in 1971. Marshall did not notch another win in the series until 1998, but the triumph of 1976 lingers to this day.
Williams remembers being honored on the field at Marshall on one of the anniversaries of the win, and as he was asked about his favorite memory his mind drifted back to Sept. 11, 1976, a game the Herald-Dispatch called “one of the biggest upsets since the sinking of the Titanic.”
“I said, ‘It was in 1976 when we beat Miami,’” Williams recalled. “The crowd roared. They still remember; they still hold onto that.”
Jack Bogaczyk, a Virginia Sports Hall of Fame member and three-time winner of the West Virginia Sportswriter of the Year award, retired last year after more than four decades covering athletics at all levels. He spent the last four years as the columnist for HerdZone.com.
Prior to that, he enjoyed a lengthy career as a sportswriter in Virginia (thus the Hall recognition) before he joined the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail in 2002 as the lead columnist. His debut column appeared on Oct. 30, and a couple weeks later – on Nov. 12, 2002 – he ventured to Huntington to cover his first Marshall game.
And it was a doozy.
“I’ve never covered a game in my career that I ended up interviewing a university police chief, a state police sergeant and I visited a hospital before I could write the story,” Bogaczyk said. “That’s a first and only in my career of about 45 years.
“It was wild.”
Let’s set the scene for what happened in the wake of Marshall’s 36-34 win against Miami.
Ben Roethlisberger twice brought the RedHawks back from double-digit deficits, and led Miami on a go-ahead scoring drive that was capped by a 17-yard touchdown run by Luke Clemens with 6:33 left of the game. That gave Miami a 34-29 lead, and Marshall would have to lean on sophomore and first-time starter Stan Hill at quarterback with Byron Leftwich standing on the sidelines on crutches.
Marshall got the ball back for the final time with 1:39 left at its own 43, and after consecutive pass interference calls against Miami, the Herd had the ball at the 1 with 10 seconds left. Hill took the snap, scrambled left and then squirted into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. There were five seconds on the clock, and the Herd had the lead.
“When Hill scored it was wild,” Bogaczyk said. “Everybody was running onto the field. Pruett was trying to get people off of the field because there was still time on the clock. It was unbelievable because Stan Hill is playing and Leftwich is not playing, and if Stan Hill didn’t have the best game for a quarterback in his first start, he’s got to be second on the list.”
After order was restored, albeit temporarily, Bogaczyk stood behind the end zone near the Shewey Building, which is the structure beyond the north end of the playing surface that houses the football offices and locker rooms. Fans poured onto the field, and the Marshall staff worked to protect the goalposts.
“Once the game finally did end, there were people running everywhere,” Bogaczyk said. “I understood why people were getting knocked down. You could see the Miami coaches were trying to make their way toward their locker room, but I didn’t feel at the time that anybody from the Marshall side – fans or players – did anything that caused the damage Miami did. I thought that was over the top.”
The “over the top” reaction Bogaczyk is referencing refers to the punch thrown by a RedHawks assistant coach that struck a fan and sent him to the hospital.
Bogaczyk found himself talking with then-athletic director Bob Marcum and other Marshall officials about the incident, and he returned to the press box to personally survey the damage caused in the visiting coaches’ box. He later visited a nearby hospital to check on the Herd fan who was sent to the emergency room, and then started furiously typing to deliver to Daily Mail readers what his eyes had witnessed that night in Huntington.
“I had never seen anything like that before in my career,” Bogaczyk said, “and there wasn’t never anything as bizarre the rest of my career.”
But that night in 2002 did elevate a longstanding college football rivalry, one that continues at Joan C. Edwards Stadium on Saturday night. Miami enters with a 30-12-1 series lead on Marshall, but it has been all Herd the past two decades. Marshall won five consecutive games in the series from 1998 to 2002, and will take a three-game win streak in the series into Saturday night’s contest. That includes a 38-point win by Marshall in 2013, and a 15-point triumph in 2014.
And if it seems like the fans, coaches and players on both sides want this game a little bit more than most, it is because they are aware of the history of one of college football’s best rivalries – one elevated by what happened in 1971, 1976 and 2002, and so many others along the way.
“What goes into Marshall and Miami – the bad feelings about each other over the years – that added more fuel to the fire,” Bogaczyk said in regards to the 2002 meeting. “It was chaos.”