Nov. 11, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- The tribute Marshall football team will deliver on national television Thursday night in an important Conference USA game at Tulsa is special and fitting.
The large "75" decal on the left side of the Thundering Herd helmets - replacing the traditional block M that still will adorn the right side of the headgear - pays homage to the 75 men and women who died in the Nov. 14, 1970 MU football team crash of Southern Airlines Flight 932.
The Herd-Golden Hurricane game will be played on the 43rd anniversary of the crash, and it's the first time Marshall has played a road football game on a Nov. 14 since the tragedy.
And I think it significant, too, that the 75 decal is large enough to almost fill one side of the helmet, not just one of those small circles or ovals above the neck that some teams use for special occasions.
Yet, once I learned of the 75 tribute plan for this night in Tulsa, I started thinking that while very fitting and right, perhaps it's time for Marshall and Herd athletics to have a reminder of those 75 souls on a more regular basis and somewhere besides the Memorial Fountain on campus.
As Athletic Director Mike Hamrick often says when this date comes around, "We will never forget." The movie, "We Are ... Marshall," helped a whole lot of people remember, too, as will Thursday night's Fox Sports 1 telecast of the Herd's "75" game.
I think it's time for Marshall to retire the number 75 -- maybe not just for football, but for all sports in which Herd student-athletes wear a jersey number. It is a very special number at the university. It does not belong just to one player, one team.
It is sewn - like on a jersey -- into the fabric of a school, an athletic program, a community, a fan base.
"We Are... Marshall!" ... "We Are ... 75!"
Freshman center Tyler Combs - from across the Big Sandy in Louisa, Ky., in other words, a neighborhood guy -- has 75 on the football team during a redshirt season. I'd guess he'd be willing to give it up for another number should the Herd and Hamrick decide to retire it.
Yes, there are only 100 numbers (0-99) available to a football team that often has 105 players. However, duplicate numbers have become common in the sport. Coach Doc Holliday's team has 10 duplicates. That's no big issue, folks. There are several available numbers not being used in football right now.
The Herd has one football number retired - the 72 of Pro Football Hall of Famer Frank "Gunner" Gatski. It adorns a pressbox wall at Edwards Stadium. Marshall also has other single-sport retired numbers, including seven in men's basketball.
However, 75 is a number that belongs to the ages for Marshall University.
The Herd should do what Major League Baseball did with Jackie Robinson's 42.
No Marshall athletic team wears it - ever again.
Then, hang a 75 - in kelly green -- from atop the video board at Edwards Stadium. Hang the number on the front exterior of the new Indoor Athletic Facility, so it can be seen by Third Avenue drivers. Hang it on the wall - prominently - in Cam Henderson Center, and inside the IAF for track meets and all-sport practices, too.
Hang it in a place of prominence at the Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex. Post it above the scoreboard at Dot Hicks Field, and on a fence or wall in the baseball park that will be the Herd's home, once those in authority figure out how to make the deal work (and they will).
Hang 75 in the Herd Hall of Fame that will be part of the Indoor Facility, in the medical and academic facilities, there, too. Hang it in locker rooms, training rooms, in the Pruett Training Facility.
And then maybe have it affixed to all player uniforms in a small patch somewhere on the jerseys, too.
A once-a-year moving tribute at the Memorial Fountain goes on this week, as it should. But those 75 players, coaches, staffers and supporters who made the ultimate sacrifice can assuredly be remembered every day, everywhere at Marshall by retiring the number.
It's like Coach Holliday said the other day when I asked him about the "75" helmet tribute:
"My goodness, that's the history of this program."
It's time to retire this very special number. I think there are 75 reasons to do it.