Final Score: UFC Knights 56 Marshall Herd 10
Weather: Awful, cold and wet; Ticket Price $20 ($34 face); Parking $5
“It had so much promise….” By Tree
Since I am often trying to sandwich in two or three games in weekend, rarely do I get spend a lot of time prior to the game. The Marshall game was going to be the exception. It was on a return trip from Louisville and the football gods were not kind to me. Ideally this would have been a noon or 1pm game that I could have easily made from Louisville and I could have then driven the six hours back home to northern Virginia. But the game was set for 7pm thanks to my good friends at ESPN 3 or ESPN Classic or ESPN U, or ESPN Ocho. Who knows for sure, but I know the game was on an ESPN derivative.
I wish I could provide more commentary on the stadium, but it was so cold and wet, my phone and any potential notes stayed snug and dry deep in my multiple layers. Of what I remember, the stadium was a fairly reasonable venue with pretty good sight lines all the way around the horseshoe design. They did have one jumbo screen. I don’t remember anything special about the concessions but the “Joan” did have that smaller college feel with the cheerleaders selling 50/50 tickets in the first half. I got ten for five bucks, but did not win. The bathrooms did have a classic trough for a urinal. I had to smile when I saw that. I don’t recall the band blowing me away either, but they deserved credit just for playing in the miserable conditions.
With the late start, it meant I would have to spend the night somewhere between Huntington West Virginia and Washington DC. On the plus side, I got to Marshall with about three hours to kill prior to kickoff. I ended up taking the scenic route through Huntington to get to the stadium. Huntington is in the heart of West Virginia coal country and accordingly, there is a blue collar, salt of the earth vibe to the town and campus.
Not being familiar with the area, I jumped at a parking lot being run by an aspiring entrepreneur who was undercutting the neighboring lot by $5. I then changed into most of my gear. I had to save my running tights for a more discrete location assuming the denizens of Huntington did not want me dropping my drawers in a parking lot. After being assured that there a couple of bars were in close proximity to the stadium, I headed down a few blocks to the stadium. The first bar was clearly the college crowd, where the students had both the energy and patience to stand three deep at the bar. I, being more of the alumni type fan, went in search of a more genteel location. But first on my list was to find a spot to change into my tights. They keep me warm and toasty without much bulk. Lucky for me that the prevailing crime rate on the Marshall campus must be miniscule because I was able to walk right into some sort of athletic facility, find an empty bathroom and make a quick change.
I headed back to the stadium and found a bar only slightly farther away from the first one. I was not surprised as I grew up in and lived in blue collar towns for a number of years. There are always multiple bars open at all times of the day and night. This crowd was of a much more experienced nature and I happily found a seat at the bar. It was a healthy mix of alums and locals many of whom appeared to be of both tribes. The Marshall folks were explaining how this was a big game and they were excited at their chances despite having a worse record than Central Florida. Evidently Marshall had one of the most dynamic offenses in college football. That made me perk up because I had seen the Knights stomp the Akron Zips earlier in the season and I thought this game might be a blowout. The Thundering Herd faithful assured me that they were loaded for bear and were going to take the conference lead with a win that night. They were very friendly and told me they always try to welcome opposing fans with open arms. The one exception would be for WVU fans that evidently looked down upon Marshall with disdain.
I still hadn’t got a ticket, as I passed on one from the student section a scalper had offered me. The small time generosity continued as the guy next to me sold me one of his season tickets at below face value. They were great seats he assured me, “right on the 50 yard line.” Once I got into the stadium I confirmed that not only were the seats in prime territory, he had sprung for the extra padded seat backs. Yes sir, despite a cold rain, I was sure I was in for a great college football experience.
I knew Marshall had a good football pedigree. Most folks remember Marshall for the tragic plane crash the killed most of the team in 1970. However, I lived near Youngstown in the mid ‘90s when Marshall and Youngstown State (led by the sweater vested Jim Tressel) were trading championships at DIAA. Between that and a number of pro players such as Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwhich, I knew Marshall usually meant good football. In fact, at the game they honored the 1992 DIAA National Championship Team. The Knights of Central Florida had other ideas. They marched up and down the field, thinning the Herd like they were shooting from a westward bound locomotive. It was enough to make my bar companion leave his primo seat at half time, never to return. Most of the crowd did the same leaving the stadium half empty.
I did stay to see if the vaunted Marshall air attack would finally take flight, but coach George O’Leary and Central Florida kept them firmly grounded. The Knights were a very good team and O’Leary could safely put their success on his resume. As for me, I held out until the 4th quarter until I finally succumbed to the conditions. I packed it in and headed to the warm confines of a very cheap motel since I couldn’t find anybody burning couches. Oops wrong school – take that ‘Neers (and leave the poor Marshall fans alone.)
I had booked a room at a Red Roof Inn in Charleston that night to get some miles in front of a long drive home. As I was driving through the back end of Huntington, I was passing several seedy strip joints and massage parlors; I stumbled upon a bright and shiny Walmart. It was like an oasis in a desert of filth. I promptly turned in so I could continue my tradition of getting a souvenir from each university. I snagged a pair of Thundering Herd gloves for $4. Not bad considering my alternative was $20 hats at the stadium. As I left the Wal-Mart, I got a better look at one of the strip joints. This had to be the saddest club I had ever seen, somewhere above Tijuana but below Bangkok on the scale of adult entertainment. I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw there was only one beat up car in the dimly lit lot. The joint didn’t look much bigger than a trailer, and I immediately surmised that the “talent” would only reinforce the cruel stereotype of the attractiveness of coal miners and their daughters.
The coup de grace? As I was checking into the motel, there was a couple in front of me contemplating a room for a romantic rendezvous. The gentleman suitor inquired as to the rate of the establishment and made a quick cost benefit analysis, looking his female companion over in the process. Evidently the juice was not worth the squeeze because they left with her glaring at him while he tried to explain why she wasn’t worth a $49.95 roll in the hay.