BOGACZYK: The 75 Reasons to Retire a Number
The Word on the Herd-Nov. 13, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- On Saturday morning, a somber Marshall community will gather again at the Memorial Fountain to remember and memorialize the 75 lives lost in the university's football team plane crash 45 years earlier.
Then again in April, a good portion of Thundering Herd Nation will meet at the same spot as the fountain's water begins to flow again -- the springtime event again one of remembrance, signifying the rebirth of a program that very well could have been shuttered after the night of Nov. 14, 1970.
But why should the thoughts of so many about such a significant tragedy and signature event in the school's history be mostly anchored perennially to two days?
The opinion here is it shouldn't be ... and it doesn't have to be.
At Saturday's football game against FIU, the Herd players will again wear the `75' decals on their helmets and -- for the first time -- don black jerseys to honor those who died in the crash. Those are fine tributes on the sixth occasion the Herd has played a game on the crash anniversary.
Yet, it's one day of remembrance. It's time to do something more often ... like every day possible.
Two years ago in this space -- when the Herd played on the road (winning at Tulsa) on the crash anniversary for the first time -- I proposed that Marshall Athletics or the university retire the number 75 in all sports, not just football.
I'm not sure anybody listened. I'm not sure anybody thought it a good idea, much less a great one. So, I'm proposing it again today, on the eve of this 45th anniversary.
Interim MU President Gary White said he didn't want to be a caretaker in the role following in the large footsteps of the late Dr. Stephen Kopp -- and White certainly hasn't been. So, he could retire the 75 before he leaves office soon. It would be a great legacy for him as the leader of his alma mater.
Or, if it takes an edict from the MU Board of Governors, so be it. It's time.
As Athletic Director Mike Hamrick often says when this date comes around, "We will never forget." Well, making the `75' as visible as possible in Herd sports -- and even in large numerals in the Student Center, for gosh sakes -- makes sure of that.
That's because `75' 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!"
Right now, no Marshall student-athlete wears 75. The last to do so was football offensive lineman Tyler Combs of nearby Louisa, Ky., but Combs sadly has had to give up the sport he loves because after recurring injuries, more pounding was going to affect his life down the road.
So, the number is very available to be retired by Hamrick ... now. It would be something else the alumnus-AD could add to his growing list of big accomplishments at a school he loves.
Put the number on a patch on every jersey, every singlet, every swim/dive suit. Affix the 75 -- prominently -- in every Marshall athletic facility, in the new Buck Harless Student-Athlete Academic Center and the MU Sports Medicine Institute. Hang it at the entrance to the Hall of Fame, which has a fitting tribute indoors to the 75 lost lives.
The Herd has one football number retired -- the 72 of Pro Football Hall of Famer Frank "Gunner" Gatski. It adorns a pressbox exterior 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.
When you go outside Huntington and West Virginia and you mention Marshall, the first thing people know about the school is the plane crash. Yes, much of that is because of the "We Are Marshall" movie, and there's nothing wrong with that being a point of reference. At least there is a point of reference. A biannual tribute at the Memorial Fountain is very special. But those 75 players, coaches, staffers and supporters who made the ultimate sacrifice would assuredly be thought of every day -- and almost everywhere -- at Marshall by retiring the number.
That `75' is the history of the football program and Marshall Athletics. It's woven into the fabric of the university.
No Marshall athletic team should ever wear it again.
Retire the number.
Again, as I wrote two years ago, there are 75 really good reasons to do it.
# # #
The other special part of Saturday's regular-season home football finale against FIU is that it's Senior Day for 18 players who have given their time and efforts to help bring back the Herd program to prominence.
Those 18 are offensive linemen Tom Collins, Sebastian Johansson and Clint Van Horn; defensive linemen Armonze Daniel, Steve Dillon, Jarquez Samuel and Ricardo Williams; wide receivers Davonte Allen and Deandre Reaves; running backs Devon Johnson and Remi Watson; linebackers D.J. Hunter and Evan McKelvey; tight end Joe Woodrum; safety Taj Letman; cornerback Keith Baxter; long snapper Matt Cincotta; and punter Tyler Williams.
Seventeen of those 18 will have graduated by next month, with the other one possible, too. Twelve played this season with undergraduate degrees already in hand -- so they've achieved on and off the field.
And they've impressed younger teammates, too.
"In my three years every senior on the teams I've been a part of, they strived to play their best football in their senior years," said junior center Michael Selby when asked how he wants to shape his final season in 2016. "Chris Jasperse, Rakeem Cato ... Deandre Reaves, many more -- they all played their best football as a senior, and that's the thing on top of what I'm doing that I would really like to do.
"It's a way to show leadership. That's kind of the groundwork they've laid the last few years and you just want to live up to that and follow in their footsteps."
True freshman quarterback Chase Litton said the Herd seniors have opened his eyes and left him with an impression he wants to carry on as he moves down the road at Marshall.
"Those guys, they just put in so much effort and that's something you can't coach, you can't teach, you can't do anything," Litton said. "It's just 100 percent them. This is the passion they have for the game, for Marshall. With an Evan McKelvey, a D.J. Hunter, a Davonte Allen, a Swede (Sebastian Johansson) ...
"And it's just players like that on down. You can't coach it. It's just what they have in them for the game. It's for the love of the community and the university and their teammates, and they play for the 75, and the `M' on the helmets and `The Herd' across their chests.
"You can't coach that, and to have players on your team who have that real passion for the game is just really, really good."