Nov'70- Tragedy Strikes College Football
46 years ago this month, the deadliest aviation accident in U.S. sporting history wiped out the entire Marshall University football team. Thirty seven players and 9 members of the coaching staff were killed on their way back to West Virginia after playing East Carolina University.
The nightmare was made that much more surreal given that six weeks earlier the lives of 14 players making up the starting lineup of Wichita State were also taken from the skies. Their aircraft was one of two planes carrying the team to a game against Utah State and unlike the other flight, it would take an unscheduled and fateful path through a valley before crashing into a mountain.
Both Marshall University and Wichita State reconstituted their teams by enrolling freshmen into their varsity programs, prohibited at the time but officially waived by the NCAA due to circumstance; three years later the NCAA abolished that rule for all schools.
The dual catastrophies were not the first or last air tragedies involving athlete groups, but their close timing and magnitude of loss was especially profound. Ten years earlier, the first aviation team accident recorded in America resulted in the loss of 16 members of the Cal Poly football team. The school did not play another road game again east of the Rockies until 1978. It's also speculated that Cal Poly alumnus and Hall of Fame coach John Madden developed his fear of flying from that tragedy.
In 1977, it was college basketball that fell victim when 14 members of the University of Evansville basketball team perished; the only player who was not on the flight was killed two weeks later by a drunk driver, effectively eviscerating the entire squad.
Other American sports groups that experienced sky tragedies include the U.S. figure skating team that went down over Belgium in 1961 with 15 members and an amateur boxing squad that lost 14 young fighters in 1980 on a trip to Poland.
Surprisingly, given the unforgiving laws of aviation statistics, there have been no plane crashes involving American professional sports teams especially in light of their frequent travels. Yet from these experiences and a few near misses of their own, the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL have all adopted formal, legal and confidential disaster drafts to rebuild their rosters in case the unthinkable should happen.
BASEBALL July 13, 2010 The NL beat the AL 3-1 in the All-Stars exhibition game. Held at Angel Stadium of Anaheim in California, the game was preceded with a short memorial honoring George Steinbrenner who had died early that morning. The AL fielded the likes of Derek Jeter (SS-Yankees), Ichiro Suzuki (OF-Mariners) and Mariano Rivera (P-Yankees), while the AL brought out David Wright (3B-Mets), Albert Pujols (1B-Cardinals) and Roy Halladay (P-Phillies).
SOCCER July 2, 2000 France defeats Italy 2-1 at the UEFA European Championship. It was their 2nd title at the quadrennial extravaganza, which has been held since 1960 to determine the continent’s best national team; Germany and Spain are tied at the top with 3 wins each. One of the most exciting finals in tournament history, France equalized a goal in the closing minute of official time to send the game into overtime and then land a ‘golden goal’ in sudden death.
TENNIS July 7, 1990 Martina Navratilova claims a record 9th Wimbledon singles title after defeating her American opponent, Zina Garrison, 6-4, 6-1. It was Navratilova’s last career grand slam singles after compiling 17 victories since her first one at Wimbledon in 1978. Considered one of the greatest female athletes in the game, the Czech-born and U.S.-naturalized tennis star was ranked No. 1 in singles for a total of 332 weeks, and No. 1 in doubles for a total 237 weeks.
BOXING July 7, 1980 Larry Holmes knocks out Scott LeDoux in the 7th round to retain his WBC Heavyweight title. It was the 35th professional and undefeated bout for the Georgia native who swung one of the fiercest left jabs in boxing history. Holmes battled the greatest heavyweights of his era and he would defeat Muhammad Ali in the 10th round just 3 months after his encounter with LeDoux. The “Easton Assassin” retired in 2002 after posting a career record of 75-69-6.