Frank Loria, Jr, on his Father and the Movie “We Are Marshall”

Surely most of the “older” Hokies know the story of my father, Frank Loria. He was a two time All American Safety in the 1960’s and VT’s first consensus All American. He also excelled in the classroom, earning Academic All American status. People often tell me they admired my dad not only for how well he played on the football field, but more so for how he carried himself off it. Even though he may have been a BMOC, he certainly did not act like it. I like to think that he represented everything good about college football. Number 10 was special. With the movie “We are Marshall” coming out, I am hoping that “younger” Hokies will learn about Frank Loria and may even want to wear #10 Jerseys someday. That would be a great tribute to a great Hokie.

My dad’s life was short, but he lived a magnificent one. He and my mom were high school sweethearts. They married while he was at VT. They had their first child, Vickie (who is a proud Hokie alum!) during his senior year. He took it pretty hard when he was not drafted by the NFL. They said he was too small and too slow. He had heard that criticism before and was not going to let that stop him. He did try out for the Denver Broncos but was one of the last players cut. He played a little in the Canadian Football League, but he was still hoping to get to the NFL.

While taking graduate courses at WVU, he got the call from another VT grad/former football player, Rick Tolley. Coach Tolley had just earned the head coaching job at Marshall University. The team had been going through tough times, but they had a lot of talented players and recruits. Back in those days most “Big Time” college programs shied away from recruiting African-American athletes. The staff at Marshall did not see color or race or ethnicity. They had recruited boys from all over the country. Even their kicker was unique in that he was one of the first soccer style kickers in the country. They were truly ahead of their time.

My dad jumped at the opportunity to be a part of a growing program in his home state of West Virginia, as it was one of his dreams to be a football coach. My dad, mom, Vickie and Julie (who was just born) moved to Huntington in the summer of 1969.

The first season was rough, but the team was showing promise. The 1970 season was going a little better, but the feeling around the team was with all the talented players and the young coaching staff, the future was looking bright. On Friday November 13th, 1970, the team left for an away game at ECU. It was a big deal for the team, as the university had chartered a DC9 for the trip. Many of the local Marshall Boosters traveled with the team. There were doctors and businessmen and their wives taking the trip. All were excited to be going.

That day, my dad said goodbye to his pregnant wife and two little girls and left with the team. On November 14th, after losing a close game to ECU, the team charter plane crashed just minutes from landing at the Tri State Airport in Huntington. 75 beautiful people were instantly killed. My father was only 23 years old.

When people hear the story they usually respond with “I am sorry.” While I appreciate that, I want people to know what happened; I want them to know of the tragedy. It is an important part of American sports history. I think it gives us all an opportunity to reflect on our own lives today and realize that life can be difficult, but it is precious. It is easy to take things for granted, so it is important to reflect and give thanks for what we do have.

It is hard to believe, but here we are 36 years later. November 14th, 1970 and the days that followed were tough times for everyone affected by the tragedy, but life went on. I think about my mom and what she went through. She is a true hero and an inspiration. I can not imagine what it was like for her on November 14, 1970. She was 22 years old, Vickie and Julie were ages 3 and 1, and Mom was 7 ½ months pregnant with me. Her beloved husband was tragically killed and she was left to carry on. Life does not get any worse than that.

I do not know how she did it. I do know that she had the strength to pick up the pieces and to go on with life. She raised her kids and provided us with a very good life. She did it with grace and honor and never once complained what life had done to her. Today she is happily married to a great man, and they enjoy spending time with Vickie, Julie and I and our families. Mom has eight beautiful grandchildren! Life continues to go on.

My family was all together in Huntington last week for the movie premiere. It was a great time filled with many emotions. We also got the privilege to spend time with Mary Jane Tolley, Rick’s wife. She is a very gracious and classy woman. I believe she spent her career as a teacher in the Richmond area. She never had children of her own, but I’ll bet there are a lot of kids that were influenced by this remarkable woman.

I have to say, the film is just awesome. It will take you on an emotional roller coaster, if you will allow yourself to get immersed in it. It really offers something for everyone. It is sad. It is funny. It is cute. It has awesome football scenes. It is the type of movie you will want to take your whole family to and it will be enjoyable for everybody. When it is over you will want to hold them all a little bit closer. I hope that all Hokie fans will see it and will remember Frank Loria and Rick Tolley. There is a scene in the film where Coach Tolley stands up to address the team on the plane before they are to land. Sitting to Coach Tolley’s right is supposed to be Coach Frank Loria. I found that touching.

My family are all Hokie fans first, but due to the circumstances, we are also a part of the Marshall family. I can not help but think there is a bond between the Hokies and the Herd. Frank Loria and Rick Tolley. I know the “We are… Marshall” cheer can seem a bit contrived, but if you think about it, it is very meaningful. In the pause between “We are” and “Marshall” is a time to remember Frank Loria, Rick Tolley and all of the 75 we lost. Then in the next breath, with the word “Marshall”, is a testament that life goes on. It is my hope that the Hokie faithful can cheer along with the Marshall folks — at least when we are not playing each other!

Go Hokies!
Frank Loria, Jr.