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.
"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."