During the second quarter of Saturday’s 61-13 win for the Marshall Thundering Herd over the Southern Miss Golden Eagles, the 1998 Marshall football team was honored for its MAC Championship over Toledo, and its Motor City Bowl victory over Louisville. Two of the former players and coaches there were quarterback Chad Pennington and head coach Bob Pruett.
Pruett, who left the Herd after the 2004 season, says being honored for the 15th anniversary of the 1998 season isn’t about the team, but the fans.
“This is awesome. This is home. It’s a great place to coach, a great place to live, and it’s got the best fans in the world,” Pruett says. “It was never ‘my football team,’ it was ‘our football team,’”
The win in the 1998 Motor City Bowl was the first for Marshall since returning to the FBS (then Division I-A) ranks in 1997. Pruett says that 1998 bowl victory was what jumpstarted the Herd into the success it had for another half decade.
“It set the tone to win championships and play for championships and the expectations we set for our program,” says Pruett.
In 1998, the Herd went 12-1, and Pennington says that 1998 team was the spark to driving the 1999 team to its undefeated mark and the #10 ranking in the final BCS polls.
“The ’98 season was special because we had come off the ’97 season where we won our first MAC Championship, but we lost the bowl game. So for our ’98 year we were totally focused on getting back to the MAC Championship, getting back to a bowl game, and winning our first bowl game. The ’98 season really set the standard and tone for the ’99 season,” Pennington says of his final three years as the starting quarterback for the Thundering Herd.
In that 1998 season, Pennington threw for 3,830 yards and 28 touchdowns to just 7 interceptions. He also completed 65.1 percent of his passes that season. He led the MAC in every statistical category for quarterbacks in 1998 except for interceptions, and was in the top-10 for most categories across all of Division I-A as well. Pennington’s top receivers of that season were LaVorn Colclough, Nate Poole, and Jerrald Long, who combined to catch 144 of Pennington’s 297 completed passes, and 13 of his touchdown passes.
Many other players returned to Huntington to be honored along with Pennington and Pruett, including John Grace, Jimmy Parker, Brian Baxter, and Curtis Sanders. While the members of the 1998 team were being announced over the stadium sound system, the 2013 Marshall offense broke out of its huddle and shook hands with each member of the 1998 team, led by current quarterback Rakeem Cato.
— Braxton Miller