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Dawson's ties to MU still run deep

Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Updated: Saturday, September 19, 2009 14:09

He is a hardnosed man who has had a hardnosed life.

From coaching at Florida State and Marshall to having Matthew Fox star as him in "We Are Marshall," Red Dawson has been many places and seen many different things.

Dawson endured a catastrophic event in 1970, one that still lingers with him today. He was one of the only surviving members of the 1970 Marshall football team and staff. In a single moment, Huntington and Red Dawson were changed forever.

In his third season as assistant coach at Marshall, Dawson wanted to visit a recruit to work out a few details following an East Carolina road game.

"I wanted the recruit to think we were really interested," Dawson said.

He decided to drive home and see the recruit on the way. Little did he know that decision would change his life.

Later that night Dawson heard about the plane crash in Wayne County, W.Va.

"The radio had said the plane had crashed while landing," he said. "You can shut your eyes and picture it, and maybe it went sideways and fell over. It didn't sound as final until we made our phone calls home."

Dawson was used to identify bodies, belongings and many other things from the plane crash.

"The way Red dealt with his emotions throughout the tragedy says a lot about his character," close friend Ned Jones said.

Dawson held back his emotions for many years, finally letting them out shortly before the shooting of "We Are Marshall." Warner Bros. and Matthew Fox relied heavily on Dawson for the crucial details that would go into their year ending film.

Even though some things were different in the movie than in Dawson's life, the basic story line was followed. He did not give up his seat on the plane as much as choose to ride back and see the recruit. Also, his wife knew he was not on the plane rather than in the movie where she worried about Dawson.

Dawson originally was born William Alfred Dawson in 1943. He was born in Valdosta, Ga., a small town 20 miles north of the Florida state line. His football roots started early.

"You didn't have a choice growing up in Valdosta, you either made a name for yourself playing football or golf," Dawson said.

He went on to add that his father didn't want him to play golf, and Red didn't seem to have the coordination, so they settled on football.

Soon after his college playing career was over, Red joined the Boston Patriots of the American Football League.

He only played during the 1965 season. Then he turned to coaching and spent the 1967 season as assistant coach at Florida State, where he stayed only one year.

Marshall landed Dawson in 1968, and he continued coaching until 1971, the year following the plane crash. As the 1971 season ended so did Red's coaching career. Dawson still lives in Huntington and keeps his ties to Marshall.

After his coaching career ended, Dawson started working for a construction company. As he became more aware of the business, he branched off and started his own company known as Red Dawson Construction Company Inc.

"Red really focuses on his company now," friend Paul Bailey said.

Dawson's newest projects are the new dorms bordering 20th Street.

He said he has been working hard on the project and it will be complete in 2008.

Dawson said he still thinks about all he has been through in his lifetime.

All of his ups and downs, the good and the bad. He is a man who has kept his emotions at best when the times were at their worst and has represented Marshall and the plane crash with dignity and respect.

Christian Brand can be contacted at brand6@marshall.edu.

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