In our new series, “The Herd in Their Words,” we talk to notable Marshall University alumnus Craig T. Greenlee, class of 1974.
Mr. Greenlee played football for the Thundering Herd during the 1968 and 1969 seasons, before he fell out of love with the sport. While he was not a member of the fateful 1970 team, he had forged friendships on the football field with a number of players who were on that team. In 2011, he published the book “November Ever After” to shed light on stories of 1970 and 1971 at MU that were overlooked by other media. He was the keynote speaker at the 2023 Memorial Fountain Ceremony at Marshall University.
Mr. Greenlee is originally from Jacksonville, Florida and now lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Why did you pick Marshall University?
Johnson C. Smith University (historically black college in Charlotte, NC) was my first choice. When I didn’t receive paperwork from JCSU during the final week of July 1968, I decided to go to Marshall and try-out for the football team as a walk-on. From the spring of my senior year of high school throughout the summer, Marshall stayed in contact by letter and weekly post cards. The offer for walk-ons was plain and simple: make the varsity team and earn a full ride with all expenses paid.
Top reason that compelled you to write November Ever After?
When the movie We Are Marshall came out, there was a sports column that ran in my local newspaper (Winston-Salem Journal). The column was about the 1970 plane crash from the perspective of Jim Grobe, who was the head football coach at Wake Forest at the time. Grobe, a Huntington-area native, did not attend Marshall. So, I contacted the Journal and talked to the sports editor about having someone interview me.
Why? Because of my connection to the team. I played with most of the guys on that plane, which included my best friend, Scottie Reese. There was a lengthy discussion, but the sports editor would not assign anyone to interview me. Instead, he insisted that I write my own story in first-person. The story never ran in the Journal, not because it wasn’t worthy, but because of the market. This region of North Carolina is all about Atlantic Coast Conference sports, high school sports and stock car racing. So, I waited for nearly a year, then I called the sports editor and pulled the plug on the project. It was necessary for this story to be told in book form. This way, I could maintain control over the entire narrative and tell this story without any restrictions.
What are the three biggest lessons you learned from your time at Marshall University?
- You can make it if you try.
- If you truly want to accomplish something, don’t ever give up, don’t ever give in.
- Challenges arise to test your mettle and fortitude.
Three favorite memories from your time at MU?
- Making the football team as a walk-on and being a key contributor on Marshall’s freshman team that went undefeated in 1968.
- Graduating from college (1974) after having to drop out for 18 months due to depleted finances.
- Marshall’s 15-13 comeback win over Xavier (Ohio) in 1971. It was the first home football game played since the plane crash.
What were the popular on-campus/off-campus hangouts when you were a student?
- Shawkey Student Union (the old building which was torn down and replaced by the Memorial Student Center)
- Dolan’s restaurant (located on 5th Avenue across the street from what is now Twin Towers). One of my fav hang-outs on Sunday afternoons. Spaghetti dinners at $2.99 were a lifesaver.
- Monty’s Pizza (on 4th Avenue about a ½ block walk from campus). Ate a lot of pizza and breadsticks on Friday and Saturday nights.
- A. D. Lewis Recreation Center (located on the other side of the railroad tracks, not that far from Fairfield Stadium). “Got my boogie on” at Friday night and Saturday night dances.
- Ritter Park (Sunday afternoon picnics and concerts)
Three ways campus culture changed after the crash?
In my eyes, the campus culture was pretty much the same. Sure, there were a couple of semesters where it felt really weird because you knew that the familiar faces you were used to seeing would not be around any more. At times, I believe every student had some individual moments of reflection about their future and how fragile life is. As far as I know, there were never any lengthy discussions about the crash among fellow students. Back then, grief counseling wasn’t available like it is today. So, we just did the best we could in dealing with our innermost thoughts and feelings.
What do you like about coming back to Marshall/Huntington now? Would you change anything?
There’s one thing I like most about coming back to Marshall and Huntington. It’s so enjoyable and emotionally rewarding to reunite with people that I went to school with and hung around with back in the day in the 1970s and early 1980s. As for changing anything, I wouldn’t know, since I’ve only visited West Virginia three times since 2001.
Most providential moment in your life involving Marshall/Huntington?
During my first year in the Air Force, I vacationed in Huntington during the winter of 1976. Eager to sharpen my journalistic skills, I ended up writing a feature story on a friend’s paraplegic father who rode around town in a motorized vehicle while sitting in his wheelchair. This “Chair-E-Yacht” vehicle enabled him to get out of the house and exercise some independence. It was my first free-lance article and it ran in the Huntington Advertiser. Getting that first published piece was a true confidence booster and it jump-started my journey into free-lance writing for newspapers and magazines.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
Let go and let God.
What is the biggest thing people should know about the events of November 13, 1970 at Marshall?
Those fights did happen. People were injured and hospitalized. And it could have been worse. The city police had to be called in to quell what could have become a bloody battle.
Nov. 13, along with events that occurred in the months following the disaster, are as much a part of school history as the crash itself and everything associated with the rise of Marshall football from the ashes. Acknowledging this bit of history does not minimize the significance of the tragedy. It does not marginalize the profound impact the crash had on a university and its surrounding communities.
Whether you agree or not, these events are a legitimate part of the Marshall saga. These elements combine to produce a unique and riveting narrative that’s unmatched by any other in college sports. This is why my memoir November Ever After resonates with folks of all age groups and ethnic backgrounds. The same applies to my upcoming release Marshall Ever After. Both books contain little-known stories that deserve to be shared.
Mr. Greenlee was the keynote speaker at the 53rd annual Memorial Ceremony on Nov. 14, 2023. Watch the video here:
Order a copy of Craig T. Greenlee’s book “November Ever After” HERE.