Many people overlook the importance of sport; there are many academic types that see sport as a distraction at the college level. While I am the first to admit that sports aren’t everything, I will argue that pride in your University’s sports teams keeps you connected to your Alma Mater. As a sports fan, I am much more rabid in my defense and rooting interests with my favorite University than I am with my favorite professional teams. I feel a connection to my Alma Mater, a pride that I feel for my home.
I am a 2009 graduate of Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. I came out of the womb as a fan of the Thundering Herd; my earliest memories are of my father taking me to the old, run-down Fairfield Stadium on the east side of Huntington to watch the Herd.
For my entire life, Marshall was a football school, and watching their dominance in the 1990s was a thing of beauty. I was in the end zone in 1996, watching Randy Moss obliterate hapless FCS cornerbacks on a regular basis. I was there in 1997 when the Herd moved to the highest ranks of college football, the FBS level, and won their Conference in the first year. I sat in the snow in 1997, the MAC championship, to watch Randy Moss and Chad Pennington bring glory to Huntington.
The following two years, my father and I drove to Pontiac, Michigan to see the Herd dominate two consecutive bowl games against Louisville and Brigham Young. In regards to Marshall football, I have seen it all, the ups and the downs. But basketball has been a different story; Marshall basketball has ALWAYS been an afterthought in my lifetime, the last time they won a Conference title I was one year old in 1987.
I am a history teacher and basketball coach at the Middle School level, I love basketball and watching the game, but my local team has ALWAYS come up short in the biggest of games. This all changed in the 2017-2018 season, Coach Dan D’Antoni and his young Thundering Herd built a team that the Alumni and entire state could be proud of. Made with seven young men from the state of West Virginia, a group of boys who were told they didn’t have what it took to play college ball at a high level, they proved the state, and the country wrong. These young men won the Conference USA and earned their first bid in 31 years to the “Big Dance” the NCAA Tournament. Full of pride, I sat in my living room watching the 13 seed Thundering Herd play the Four seed Wichita State.
Pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the tournament, the Thundering Herd used their up-tempo and entertaining brand of basketball to defeat the Shockers and move into the second round game. I was shocked as well (pun intended) and immediately began looking for flights to San Diego to see the Herd. My father in law wanted to go, but he hates flying, he begged my brother in law Kelly and I to drive with him to San Diego. At first, we thought the idea crazy, who in the hell drives 36 hours non-stop to watch a two-hour basketball game? But the more we thought, the more we realized that this was special, we could see our country and we could experience March Madness for the first time. With two hours to pack and call off of work, we began our journey at 10 p.m.
Check back for part two of “Herd Trippin” and our journey throughout the United States to see the Herd.