When the Philadelphia Eagles take on the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game this weekend, it will put the Eagles’ defender Vinny Curry and Vikings’ quarterback Case Keenum in the spotlight on the big stage.
It won’t, however, be the first time the two have met on national television. When they did so 10 years ago, it produced one of the most memorable games in Joan C. Edwards Stadium history.
Curry, then a freshman, and Marshall hosted Keenum’s Houston squad back on Oct. 28, 2008 — a Tuesday — for an ESPN audience. Keenum was on his way to being named that season’s Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year, but his 317 passing yards against the Thundering Herd that night was his lowest output of the season. He connected for two touchdown passes, but also tossed two interceptions. Curry had two tackles as Marshall knocked off the Cougars 37-23. Houston’s head coach that night? New Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin. The Cougars offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach?
On its own that’s a pretty memorable night for Herd fans, but, at least for me, the result gets lost in the retelling of what went on that day – especially when you remember Marshall went on to lose to East Carolina, Central Florida, Rice and Tulsa to finish 4-8.
Let’s start that afternoon. It was a Tuesday game, so that sort of threw off my usual game day routine. I was a student reporter for The Parthenon at the time, so after (probably?) attending some classes earlier in the day and checking in at the newsroom I made my way across campus to the stadium a few hours before kickoff.
Marshall is one of the many hosts kind enough to offer a pregame meal to the media, and I don’t need to tell you how students (and let’s be honest, sports writers) feel about free food, so naturally my first stop was the chow line. Deep dish pizza was on the menu that day, and the only reason I remember that is because when the few of us that had trickled in sat down to eat we were joined by a group of a few guys from the ESPN broadcast team that included Lou Holtz.
I’m not here to say if the pizza was always bad or if it had just been sitting out a little too long, but either way it drew the ire of Dr. Lou. After a few bites, Holtz made a joke about Marshall being the place ESPN came up with the idea for its “Cold Pizza” show. I’m also not here to critique Lou Holtz on his comedic ability, but it was one of what turned out to be the first of a few details that burned into my mind from that game.
After a trip upstairs to check in on the WMUL pregame show and a brief meeting in the hall with (very nice, patient man dealing with a big group of college kids firing questions at him) broadcaster Rece Davis, both teams went through pregame routines without much worth remembering, but then Marshall came out of the tunnel for the game in surprise secret green helmets and it was game on.
The Herd warmed up in its usual white lids with the green, black and white stripe but were surprised by the coaching staff when they returned to the locker room to find the new helmets in each of their lockers.
I think I’m in the minority of people who really liked the green helmets as they were used over the next few seasons (the green helmet with MU’s old all-white uniforms are my favorite Marshall football look ever), but in the moment when the team hit the field with the new look every person in that stadium was captivated by it.
It pumped Marshall up and it showed on the field as the Herd ran out to a 16-3 halftime lead, but then in the third quarter all of us in attendance were there to see one of the most gruesome injuries in the stadium’s history.
With just under eight minutes to play in the quarter, Houston receiver Patrick Edwards went out for a pass from Cougars’ backup quarterback Blake Joseph. The pass was deep — too deep for Edwards to have hauled in for a touchdown — but he had his head turned to track the ball and never saw it coming. There was a metal cart along the back of the end zone, left there from the band’s halftime performance, and with his head turned and running full speed Edwards collided with it.
Keep in mind, there were several thousand fans and a big piece of glass between me and the field and where Edwards got hurt was opposite the press box, but it remains a difficult sound to describe. The best descriptors I can offer are “loud” and “gross” — and it was immediately apparent Edwards was hurt and hurt bad.
The replay confirmed the “gross” part as the fans in the stadium and national audience got to see Edwards’ right leg snap as it hit the cart. He was down a long time before eventually being carted off the field and taken to the hospital.
Marshall went on to lead by as many as 27 points (at 30-3 late in the third quarter) before a Houston rally in the fourth quarter set the final at 37-23. That’s where the game ended, but the Edwards story would endure for several years.
After the injury — ruled a compound fracture of the fibia and tibia — Edwards missed the final five games of 2008. He was able to heal and rehab the injury in time for 2009 and went on to set school and C-USA records for receiving yards and touchdowns before completing his collegiate career after the 2011 season.
Edwards sued Marshall, C-USA and official Gil Gelbke in 2010 for negligence, eventually reaching an undisclosed settlement in 2012. He would spend a few seasons on and off the Detroit Lions’ practice squad but has been out of the NFL since 2014.