TULSA, Okla. - There was some sadness in Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick when he watched the Thundering Herd football team take the field with the number 75 on the left side of their helmets. That number honored the 75 players, coaches, staff and supporters that died in the Nov. 14, 1970 plane crash.
But that sadness quickly gave way to pride.
"I am a Marshall grad," Hamrick said. "It's my university and I'm proud of it, that the university has built back the football program after such a horrible tragedy."
Hamrick isn't just a graduate. He played for the Thundering Herd from 1976-79, so soon after the crash. There were coaches and former players still around the program from 1970, people who weren't on that plane and told their stories why. The wounds were still fresh, but the school refused to succumb to them, Hamrick said.
"It would have been so easy to quit," Hamrick continued. "There was so much pain. It was so devastating and Marshall could have just quit. But they didn't. Marshall just kept digging its heels in and saying, 'By gosh, we're going to have a good football program because it's important to our people and we're not going to let this tragedy bring us down.'"
Even 43 years later, the current roster understands the importance of that number and the importance of the team in the community, center Chris Jasperse said.
"It's not flashy, but it's what Marshall and Huntington are all about," Jasperse said. "It's huge for us as a program and the first time we've done it. It's a big thing for us."
Not only did the Herd players wear "75" on their helmets, but the kickoff of the game was pushed back to 7:36 p.m. to commemorate the anniversary of the crash. And before the national anthem, Chapman Stadium observed a moment of silence.
All these things served as a reminder to those familiar with Marshall's background and a history lesson to those unaware, Jasperse said. And those who don't know the history of the crash will learn it was a story of both tragedy and triumph.
"They'll realize we scratched and clawed our way back," Jasperse said. "It started with that 1971 team. They fought for it and they made a huge difference in this program and they kept the program alive."