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Echoes of Tragedy Two specials revisit the plane crash in which Marshall's football team perished.

Nov. 06, 2000
Nov. 06, 2000

Table of Contents
Nov. 6, 2000

Echoes of Tragedy Two specials revisit the plane crash in which Marshall's football team perished.

They descend on Huntingdon, W.Va., nearly every year. Reporters
visit the site of the worst disaster in American sports
history--the deaths in a plane crash of 75 members of the 1970
Marshall football team and its entourage--in much the same fashion
that curiosity seekers journey to Burkittsville, Md., in the wake
of The Blair Witch Project. They come in search of ghosts. Or of
a new angle: a photograph that hasn't been seen, an anecdote that
hasn't been related.

This is an article from the Nov. 6, 2000 issue Original Layout

"We're getting more this year than we do normally," says Marshall
sports information director Ricky Hazel, who notes that not every
visitor is respectful. "CBS came here to do an Eye on America
piece for the evening news and wanted us to sign an exclusivity
agreement. Can you believe that?"

Nov. 14 will mark the 30th anniversary of the disaster, and ESPN
and HBO each will present a feature on the tragedy. ESPN will
show a one-hour documentary, Remembering Marshall: Thirty Years
Later (Wednesday, 10 p.m.), while HBO will devote a segment of
Real Sports (Tuesday, Nov. 14, 10 p.m.) to the crash and its
aftermath. "Just to stand in the woods on that site [where the
plane went down] is very powerful," says Jim Lampley, who
reported the 12-minute Real Sports piece (an SI-Real Sports
collaboration).

Both features pack an emotional wallop. Each includes interviews
with former assistant coach Red Dawson and '71 Thundering Herd
captain Nate Ruffin. (Dawson missed the flight to make a
recruiting visit; Ruffin, a defensive back, stayed home from the
game at East Carolina because his right arm was temporarily
paralyzed.) ESPN's documentary, given its greater length, pays
more attention to detail. Producer Lilibet Foster tracked down
silent 16-mm film of that game at East Carolina (a 17-14
Thundering Herd loss) and a recording of a radio broadcast of it,
and spliced them together. She also provides an audio reenactment
of the crash based on the transcript from the ill-fated flight's
cockpit voice recorder.

For his segment Lampley interviews Thundering Herd TV
play-by-play man Keith Morehouse, whose father, Gene, did radio
play-by-play in 1970 and perished in the crash. Neither ESPN's
nor HBO's report mentions that Morehouse, 39, is married to the
former Debbie Hagley, 39, who lost both her parents (her father,
Ray, was the team doctor) in the disaster. Morehouse, a sports
anchor at WSAZ-TV, has no plans to revisit the crash on-air
during his Nov. 14 sportscast. "I've given our news department
some ideas," he says, "but to be honest, I don't find it easy to
talk about." --J.W.

COLOR PHOTO: COURTESY OF MARSHALL UNIVERSITYCOLOR PHOTO

WEB TIME FOR GONZO
Counterculture journalist Hunter S. Thompson gets an espn.com gig

Now that professional athletes have caught up to the
rifle-toting, coke-snorting, vodka-swilling lifestyle that gonzo
journalist Hunter S. Thompson has espoused for decades, it's
only fitting that he catch up with them. Beginning on Monday,
Thompson will become a featured columnist on espn.com's edgy new
link, Page 2.

"Hunter's an avid sports fan," says ESPN executive editor John
Walsh, who edited Thompson's material at Rolling Stone in the
early 1970s. "I once sent him to cover the Super Bowl when it was
held in Houston." The typically rambling 15,000-word piece that
ensued, "Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl," devotes relatively
little space to describing the game (Dolphins 24, Vikings 7)
while loosely chronicling "the eight long and degrading days I
had skulked around Houston with all the other professionals,
doing our jobs--which was actually to do nothing at all except to
drink all the free booze we could pour into our bodies, courtesy
of the National Football League, and listening to an endless
barrage of some of the lamest and silliest swill ever uttered by
man or beast."

Walsh believes the liberal parameters of the Internet are ideal
for Thompson. "It's made for him," Walsh says. "Hunter can rant
or rave as long as he wants. If a sporting event strikes his
fancy, he'll go to it." It's a pretty fair bet, though, that the
author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas will prefer covering
events on natural grass. --J.W.