By Chad Pennington
NOTE: We Are Marshall, which opens in theaters nationwide on Dec. 22, tells the inspiring true story of how a community responded after one of the worst disasters in the history of American sports. CAA Sports, working with FSPR and Warner Bros., arranged a private screening last week for New York Jets quarterback -- and Marshall alum -- Chad Pennington.
(Dec. 18, 2006) -- When you're a freshman student-athlete at Marshall University, you are made well aware of the history of the program and the significance of the 1970 plane crash that killed almost the entire football team, coaching staff and other prominent members of the Huntington, W.V., community.
I'm probably biased, but We Are Marshall is a terrific movie that does a really good job of telling the story of what happened after the crash. It's easy to see how they very well could have ended the football program at Marshall at that time. Who knows how that would have affected those of us who played for Marshall in subsequent years? We Are Marshall does a nice job of showing the world how the program literally rose from the ashes.
Matthew McConaughey plays Jack Lengyel, who comes from a small school in Ohio to become the head coach of Marshall and is charged with rebuilding the team. Matthew Fox plays Red Dawson, an assistant coach who is reluctant to rejoin the team after he missed the plane that crashed when he was sent on a recruiting trip at the last minute. David Strathairn plays the university president who must deal with helping to rebuild the program while also getting criticized by those in the community who were not emotionally prepared to see the program start up again.
The acting in the movie is excellent from top to bottom, and it makes for an intensely emotional experience. My wife and I both cried watching We Are Marshall, but I don't think you have to be connected to Marshall to be affected.
Normally an inspirational story has a foundation. Here, there was no foundation -- they had to start from scratch. There were a couple of players left, one coach, and that basically was it. To see how people were able to rise up, bond together and lay a new foundation is pretty amazing. And the success that Marshall enjoyed several years down the road was a testament to what happened back then.
One of the side stories that hit home for me was that of Keith Morehouse, who was 9 years old when his father died in the crash.
Keith's dad was the radio announcer for Marshall's games, and Keith ended up following in his father's footsteps. I have a really good relationship with Keith Morehouse to this day -- he did all my games there and still does Marshall games on TV. To see him depicted as a child, in the wake of the tragedy -- that really hit home with me. It was very surreal to watch.
Much of the movie was filmed in Huntington, and it was also a little surreal to see the landmarks that were a part of my college experience -- they show the dormitories that I lived in, and there's a scene on the basketball court I used to play on. Even though the movie takes place in 1970 and 1971, the Huntington scenery is still very familiar. They use the Keith-Albee Theater as a backdrop in a few scenes, and that's where we used to go to watch movies on Friday nights before home games.
By the time I finished my playing career at Marshall, I truly understood the impact of the tragedy that took place 25 years before I got there. All Marshall players, to this day, understand that they are not only playing for themselves and their community -- they are playing for a legacy.
The Marshall story really made an impact in my life -- and I am so proud to be a part of the university's history. All incoming freshman football players need to see this movie -- so they can understand what our story is, what our university is all about. It would really kind of set the foundation for every football player to understand what they've gone through.
We Are Marshall certainly hits home for me, but I also think it's such a good movie that I think anyone who sees it would be inspired.