“We are Marshall”

We’ve been wanting to watch We are Marshall for a long time but it’s been hard to find a copy of the DVD on the shelf at one of the local video rentals stores. We finally watched it, and it was worth the wait.

We are Marshall is a true story about the rebuilding of Marshall University’s college football team following the plane crash in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia on 11.14.1970 that killed all 75 passengers (including the school’s 37-member team and coaches as well as a number of other community members).

At first it appeared the school would not try to rebuild the football program immediately. However, students, including Nate Ruffin (Anthony Mackie), one the team’s players that wasn’t on the plane due to an injury, convinced school officials to rebuild the program, in a moving scene where students gathered on campus and shouted, “We are Marshall!”

Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey) was the coach that was hired to rebuild the football program at Marshall. Lengyel was portrayed as a bit eccentric but was clearly the right person for the job.

In a major turning point, Jack convinced university president, Don Dedmon (David Strathairn), to get the NCAA’s approval to field freshman players. Jack asked President Dedmon, “Now, are you married?” After Dedmon said he was, in fact, married, Jack said, “I am willing to bet that you didn’t propose over the phone” and “I know … she didn’t say yes in a letter. Huh?” Jack went on to say …

You can do it. You’re an outlaw. Pioneer. Gunslinger. This is a whole new game, Doc. […] There’s a first time for everything, Don. And if we’re gonna survive, this has to be one of those times. And you’re the only man that can do it.

Later, in a scene between Jack and assistant coach, Red Dawson (Matthew Fox), the former team’s only remaining coach who had switched out with someone else just prior to the crash. Jack tries to change Red’s mind about quitting the team.

Just before the plane crash, Red had earlier recalled Coach Tolley’s final words to his team that had just lost on the field. He said, “Winning is everything.” In a scene that took place in a church, where Jack found Red, Jack says, “He was right, you know.” Red asks, “Who was right?” Jack says …

Your boy Tolley. Winning is everything and nothing else matters. I mean, I’ve said that so many times myself I’ve lost count. You know? And it doesn’t matter what sport, and it doesn’t matter what country and coach who’se worth a darn in this business believes those words. Fact. And then I came here. For the first time in my life, […] maybe for the first time in the history of sports, suddenly, it’s just not true anymore. At least not here, not now. No. You see, Red, it doesn’t matter if we win or if we lose. It’s not even about how we play the game. What matters is that we play the game. That we take the field, that we suit up on Saturdays, and we keep this program alive. We play the game, Red, and I’m telling you, one day, not today, not tomorrow, not this season, probably not next season either, but one day, you and I are gonna wake up and suddenly we’re gonna be like every other team in every other sport where winning is everything and nothing else matters. And when that days comes, well, that’s when we’ll honor them.

And he was right. At the end of the movie, viewers are told that Jack Lengyel resigned as head coach in 1974 with a record of 9 and 33. In fact, Marshall lost more games in the 70s than any other program in the nation. But yet, football remained. In 1984, the Herd had their first winning record in 20 years. They followed it with 8 conference titles, 5 straight bowl wins, and 2 national championships. The Young Thundering Herd proves that sometimes you just gotta play the game!

Just before the team’s first home game after the crash, Jack started a tradition at Marshall, taking the team to the cemetery where team members who died in the crash were buried just before the game. Here’s what Jack says to his team …

This is where we have been. This is how we got here. This is who we are today. I wanna talk about our opponent this afternoon. They’re bigger, faster, stronger, more experienced, and on paper, they’re just better. And they know it, too. But I wanna tell you something that they don’t know. They don’t know your heart. I do. I’ve seen it. You have show it to me. You have shown this coaching staff, your teammates. You have shown yourselves just exactly who you are in here (pounding his chest with fist). Now, when you take that field today, you’ve gotta lay your heart on the line, men. From the souls of your feet, with every ounce of blood you’ve got in your body, lay it on the line until the final whistle blows. And if you do that, if you do that, we cannot lose. We may be behind on the scoreboard at the end of the game, but if you play like that, we cannot be defeated.

It’s great comeback story!

The DVD also has a great 40-minute special feature that alone is worth the rental fee. The spot features legendary coaches, including Jack Lengyel, Bobby Bowden, Pat Summit, Lute Olson, George Horton, and John Wooden in their own words. It’s a leadership seminar! In the coming days, I’ll (Randy) post some quotes and reflections on the words of these great coaches.

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