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Thousands attend 'Marshall' premiere

| Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2006

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Several thousand moviegoers decked out in tuxedos and evening gowns turned this Ohio River community into Tinsel Town for Tuesday's premiere of the Warner Bros. film "We Are Marshall."

The movie, which was filmed partly in Huntington, chronicles the city's and Marshall University's rise from the ashes of the Nov. 14, 1970, plane crash that killed 75 people, including most of the school's football team and many prominent members of the community. The plane was returning from a game at East Carolina when it crashed into a hillside near Tri-State Airport.

The accident remains the worst sports disaster in American history.

"It's not a football movie. It's a movie about hope and faith and perseverance," said Jack Lengyel, who coached the 1971 team.

Charles Henry, a linebacker on the 1971 team, said he and his teammates did not realize at the time the role they would play in Marshall's history.

"Back then, we were just kids playing football. I don't think we really understood the impact of all this. Looking back, it's like, wow, this is bigger than we ever could have conceived of," said the 52-year-old Fort Lauderdale, Fla., resident.

About 2,200 tickets, ranging from $250 to $1,000 each, were sold for the premiere at Huntington's historic Keith-Albee theater. A joint premiere was held at a nearby movie complex, where the film was shown on 16 screens for another 2,800 viewers. The names of the plane crash victims were read during a candlelight vigil outside the complex after the screenings.

"I'm glad finally the tragedy was given some recognition and the world can know how special these people were," said Amanda Jarrell, 18, of Plano, Texas, whose grandparents were killed in the crash.

About 5,000 fans gathered outside the Keith-Albee hoping to catch a glimpse of "We Are Marshall" director McG and the actors, including Matthew McConaughey, who plays Lengyel, and Matthew Fox, who plays former assistant coach Red Dawson.

Some people watched the festivities from a nearby parking garage, while others crowded at windows of other buildings along the street.

Instead of the traditional red carpet, the celebrities walked into the Keith-Albee on a green carpet, Marshall's signature color. McG and producer Basil Iwanyk arrived first and led the crowd in a "We Are Marshall" cheer.

Jamie Linden, the movie's screenwriter, said returning to Huntington felt like coming home.

"I'm really proud of the movie. I think it does its job of honoring the people who were a part of it," he said.

Linden wasn't the only person affiliated with the movie to embrace Huntington.

"I'll be back, man. Huntington is a good place to be. I feel at home here. I'll definitely be back," said actor Arlen Escarpeta, who plays Reggie Oliver, the quarterback for Marshall's 1971 team.

McConaughey said the town "sort of became a teammate with us filmmakers."

"I'd like to come back some day and I know I'll always be able to come here with a smile on my face," he said.

A Hollywood premiere is planned for Thursday and the movie opens nationwide Dec. 22.

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