HUNTINGTON — Chad Pennington’s legacy needed no bolstering for Pennington to go down as the greatest quarterback in Marshall history.
As all greats do, however, Pennington found a way to up the ante just a bit in his final game at Marshall Stadium.
That game was the 1999 Mid-American Conference Championship, and it became one of the greatest comebacks in Marshall history as Pennington rallied Marshall from a 23-0 deficit in the third quarter for a 34-30 win over Western Michigan.
Rallying from a 23-point deficit in the final 23-plus minutes of action is impressive enough, but fans of today’s game might not fully understand what was at stake 21 years ago on that Dec. 3 evening.
This wasn’t the days of every conference having six or seven bowl bids.
The Mid-American Conference had one tie-in — the Motor City Bowl — and if Marshall lost, its season would end at 12-1 without a bowl unless chosen for an at-large berth, which may have come, but was not guaranteed.
Given all that the seniors on that 1999 team had accomplished, a loss would indeed tarnish everything they had built.
And Pennington knew it, too.
In a career marked with passing records, Pennington’s biggest play during his senior season may have been one he made with his feet.
After picking up a 4th-and-6, Pennington scrambled for a 33-yard run that gained even more yardage following a late hit out of bounds as the clock wound within the final 50 seconds.
Pennington looked to end the drive with a sneak from the 1-yard line, but Western Michigan’s defense stood him up, forcing the Herd to burn its final timeout with seven seconds left.
With the crowd abuzz, Pennington delivered one final pass at Marshall Stadium — a 1-yard toss to Eric Pinkerton to lift the Herd to the win.
It was a moment I personally won’t forget for many reasons.
That game served as my first-ever game on the field covering Marshall as I was finishing a senior project at Wayne High School involving making a newspaper on Marshall’s 1999 team.
When Pinkerton made that catch, I was just three yards away as he rolled up next to me and Dan Hollis, whom I had met in that second half and later would be one of my journalism professors at Marshall.
I’ll never forget Hollis — in his normal bucket hat — looking at me and saying, “You might want to run. Those fans are coming right down here.”
He was right.
For Pennington, it was the perfect capture of his collegiate career and segway into what would be an extensive NFL career, too.
Pennington came into college as the underdog — a skinny, undersized kid from Tennessee with little interest.
However, each time he was counted out, he found a way to prove everybody wrong.
There’s not many who would’ve given the Herd a chance to rally from a 23-0 deficit in the middle of the third quarter.
Many in the stadium that day certainly didn’t believe so.
By the end, though, Pennington made them believe.
Above all the records that Pennington captured, the most notable quality he possessed was being a winner.
And that’s how he left Marshall Stadium in 1999.