HUNTINGTON Grover Truslow didn't think he'd be able to hear over the din of a college football halftime, even in a stadium with attendance limited to a third its capacity due to COVID-19, so he walked with a reporter off the sideline at Joan C. Edwards Stadium to talk on Saturday afternoon.
Then Truslow heard a voice from the past. Specifically, the voice of a newscaster from half a century ago.
A video Marshall's media department released on Twitter on Thursday night was playing on the video board. It commemorated what happened 50 years to the day before Saturday — a college football game, one of a hundred that happen around the country every Saturday, as normal and unremarkable as it gets.
Then followed by something far from normal, and remarkable for all the wrong reasons.
For a moment, Truslow was transfixed, taken back to a game he played in as a 20-year-old for East Carolina on Nov. 14, 1970 in Greenville, North Carolina, a 17-14 Pirates victory over Marshall.
And Truslow was taken back to what happened hours after that: the plane crash that took the life of every Thundering Herd player he'd shared the field with that afternoon.
"To see the film of the original game is touching to me," said Truslow, in 1970 a linebacker for the Pirates. "It's just really hard. A lot of remorse, a lot of remembrances, and also gratitude, to be thankful that we've been given the gift of life by God."
Truslow was one of four 1970 Pirates in attendance at Marshall's 42-14 victory over Middle Tennessee State, played on the 50th anniversary of the tragic death of 75 Marshall players, coaches, administrators, media and boosters just outside Tri-State Airport.
Truslow, Rusty Scales, Chuck Zadnik and Richard Peeler also went to the ceremonial turning off of the fountain that happens every Nov. 14.
They'd been invited by Marshall a couple of months ago, Truslow said, and showed up decked out in purple. But on this day, their hearts were clearly with the black-clad Herd, ranked 16th in the country and in the midst of one of their best seasons yet.
"It's just almost like a family member," Truslow said. "We were so happy for their success. It's gratifying."
Zadnik, who recovered a fumble from his defensive tackle position that led to a touchdown for East Carolina on that day, remembers "a defensive battle ... a real, real low-scoring game."
And he remembers struggling to wrap his mind around the word that reached Greenville that Saturday night of what had happened in Wayne County, West Virginia, on final approach to the tarmac.
"You spent time on the field playing against these guys," Zadnik said, "and then all of a sudden, hey, they're gone. You're 20 years old, or a little bit older than 20; any way you take a look at that, it's hard. And as you got older, it sinks in even more now, how fortunate we were and how short life is."
Scales, a running back in 1970, played against Marshall quarterback Ted Shoebridge in high school. Shoebridge assembled his best showing of the season — 14 for 32 for 188 yards and a touchdown — on the day he died.
According to The Herald-Advertiser's account of the game, Shoebridge was flagged for a controversial intentional grounding penalty that all but sealed the Herd's fate — a phrase that would take on a radically different meaning mere hours later.
"I talked to Ted Shoebridge probably for 20, 25 minutes (after the game)," Scales said. "That night was very difficult. We had people scattered in different places doing different things, so the roundup was pretty quick, and we all met at the center of campus and understood what had happened."
Truslow remembers the Pirates, their coaches and East Carolina's president gathering for a memorial service at 2 a.m., the celebratory mood after their victory more than dampened.
That feeling still pops up from time to time 50 years later.
Asked what his thoughts had been like on Saturday, seeing the 2020 Herd compete hours after a remembrance of their late predecessors, Zadnik paused for three seconds to swallow his emotions before answering.
"How fortunate these kids are," he said. "Cherish every moment you've got, because it could be taken away from you at any time."
The Marshall community noted and appreciated the quartet's attendance. A woman on the Herd's game operations staff thanked Truslow for coming as the aforementioned video played.
"It was great to see our friends from ECU be able to come back today," Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. "For us, this date is always tremendously special, but they were part of it as well. We're so grateful that they were able to be here to help us remember the 75."
Truslow and Scales are 70 now. Zadnik is 73. They still rib each other as though they were college buddies, and still talk at least semi-regularly. Zadnik joked that now a typical topic of conversation is what operations they'd undergone recently.
They're old men now, and that's how old men talk. On Saturday, they honored 36 opposing players who didn't get that opportunity, who will forever be in their teens and 20s.
Scales said they hope to do it again — with more of their former teammates in tow — when East Carolina visits Huntington to play Marshall next year.
"I still think about Ted and Art Harris," Scales said. "I think about them every football season."
So does an entire region. And always will.
Reach ZACK KLEMME at email@example.com or (606) 326-2658. Follow @zklemmeADI on Twitter.