GOP Presidential candidate John McCain visits with the 2008 Marshall University Thundering Herd football team on Wednesday, August 6. photo courtesy of West Virginia MetroNews, "The Voice of West Virginia" (www.wvmetronews.com)
Wearing a green Marshall hat, McCain strolled the turf at the Marshall stadium and spoke with a few players and coaches. He even called three offensive plays, all going for touchdowns. Thundering Herd Coach Mark Snyder then gathered the team together for McCain's remarks. "I want you to know how proud I am to be here," he said. "This is a unique institution, an institution that went through a great tragedy and an institution with a tradition of courage and a tradition of victory and a tradition of winning," he said. Snyder was joined by Marshall University President, Dr. Stephen Kopp, and by former assistant coach "Red" Dawson, who one one of the coaches for the "Young" Thundering Herd in 1971.
McCain went on to tell the players how important teamwork is when it comes to success. The veteran Senator says teamwork was key when he and other American soldiers were prisoners of war in Vietnam for over five years. "We were a team and we had leaders," McCain said. "Our leaders were our senior ranking officers and they were the ones that, when we failed, they would pick us and send us back into the fight."
Senator McCain relayed a story about a fellow prisoner who sewed an American flag on the inside of his shirt and how daily the prisoners of war would say the Pledge of Allegiance. McCain says that took courage, just like the Thundering Herd needs to show on the field during the upcoming season. "You are here at an institution that has a tradition of tragedy, courage and greatness, and Americans are watching you," McCain said.
Marshall University football players say they were inspired by what McCain, who spent 22 years in the U.S. Navy after graduating from the Naval Academy, had to say Wednesday about teamwork. Senior Matt Parkhurst, junior All-American Cody Slate and sophomore Lee Smith, all tight ends for the Herd, and their teammates gathered around McCain on the turf at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Afterward, just outside his position meeting room, Parkhurst told MetroNews the visit was significant for several reasons. "Not only is it a benefit educationally, but it's inspirational, especially to hear a story like John McCain's. He's a hero. A true American hero," Parkhurst said. McCain has served Arizona as a member of the House of Representatives starting in 1982 and won his Senate seat in 1986, after retiring as a Navy aviator.
McCain told the players about his time in the military and the years he spent as a prisoner of war. The GOP presidential hopeful said teamwork played a key role in many circumstances. "I think it's really similar," tight end Lee Smith said. "Everything he's said he's been through to get to this point is obviously a lot like us on the field."
Before his pep talk, McCain called three offensive plays, two of those to the Conference USA preseason pick at tight end in Slate. "I was a little nervous," Slate told MetroNews. "We do it everyday, but just knowing that he called the play and I couldn't mess up on that one because the senator called it. I had to concentrate a little more." He caught both passes. Slate called McCain "my kind of coordinator."
Parkhurst says the timing of the visit should help motivate the Herd for the entire 2008 season. "For him to take time out of his schedule to take time to talk to us, I'm sure that's going to give us a lift." McCain was making his third, but probably not last, visit to the Mountain State before heading on to Jackson, Ohio for an appearance later on Wednesday.
The soon-to-be GOP nominee ended his remarks by saying 'We Are Marshall," the title of the Warner Bros. movie that debuted in Huntington at the historic Keith-Albee Theatre in December of 2006. The movie, which starred Matthew McConaughey and Matthew Fox (who played Dawson in the movie) and is now available on DVD and BlueRay Disc, has been showing throughout the summer on HBO. The phrase actually began in the 1980s, as Marshall began to winning for the next 20 years after shaking off two decades of losing football before and after the greatest loss of all. On Nov. 14, 1970, a crash that killed 75 persons returning from a game at now Conference USA opponent East Carolina. The dead included most of the coaches and players on the team, but Dawson was recruiting while two other coaches were scouting Ohio University at Penn State that weekend to prepare for the Herd's season-ending game with the long-time rival Bobcats from Athens, Ohio, near where McCain's second stop of August 6 ended.