"It's not like we don't have cable TV," Wells said.
Marshall's campus in Huntington isn't part of a metropolis, cither. But the football team's success in recent years has put the city—located in the southwest corner of the state, near the converging borders of Ohio and Kentucky—on the map. The Thundering Herd won the Division I-AA title in 1992, was the runner-up in '91 and '93 and was a semifinalist last season.
Senior running back Chris Parker, whose career at Marshall began in a tragic manner, has been at the heart of that success. Shortly after committing to the school in February 1991, Parker took his girlfriend, Tammy Yuille; two of her sisters, Connie and Sharlene; and one of her brothers, Brian, on a trip to Huntington. Driving home to Lynchburg, Va., after the visit, Parker lost control of his car and the three women were killed in the crash.
Parker's anguish has been soothed somewhat by the joy he has found on the football field for Marshall. "The past four years have been the greatest part of my life without a shadow of a doubt," he said after scoring two touchdowns and rushing for 94 yards on 23 carries last Saturday. "A football loss isn't going to put a damper on what I have accomplished." And what has Parker accomplished? He holds every major rushing record at Marshall and ranks fifth in I-AA history, with 4,571 yards on the ground.
His strength is an uncanny ability to cut back and slash through a defense. "Give me a crease, and I'll make something happen," he said. On Parker's 26-yard touchdown run against the Grizzlies, he left five Montana defenders sprawled in his wake. And even when defenders get their hands on him, he is tough to bring down. "Opposing players have told me that I have an unconscious lean when I run," said Parker. "When someone comes into contact with me it stands me up straight instead of pulling me down."
The 19-year-old Pennington appears ready to succeed Parker as the leader of the Marshall offense. He began the season as the team's third-string quarterback, but injuries to the players in front of him cleared the way for a starting assignment on Sept. 30. He won 10 of 11 games to get to the championship game, in which he completed 23 of 40 passes for 246 yards. But it wasn't enough.
Outside the Grizzlies' locker room, Dickenson talked about what the championship means to Montana, a team that had advanced to the semifinals in '89 and '94 yet still didn't have the respect he thought the school deserved. "The University of Montana is never talked about with the other powerhouses in I-AA, like Marshall, Youngstown State and Georgia Southern," said Dickenson. "This win put us on the map. We're not hicks."
No, they're national champions.