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McNally was part of Marshall's rebirth

Buffalo Bills offensive line coach Jim McNally is looking forward to the upcoming motion picture, "We Are Marshall," a true story about the resurrection of Marshall University's football program after a 1970 plane crash killed most of the team.

McNally really doesn't need to watch the film to see what happened because he lived it.

He was a part of the coaching staff that took over after 75 people, including coaches, players and fans, perished when their plane exploded into a West Virginia mountain side while returning from a game at East Carolina on Nov. 14, 1970. It is still considered the worst college sports tragedy in history.

"We Are Marshall," which is scheduled for nationwide release Dec. 22, chronicles the accident and the remarkable recovery by the Huntington, W. Va., school and the surrounding community.

"The movie talks about the players and coaches that had been killed, and there are some dramatic scenes of that," McNally said. "It also talks about how the new head coach hired his staff. I talked to someone the other day who said it's a real tear-jerker. They say it's very good."

McNally was hired as Marshall's offensive line coach by head coach Jack Lengyel (played by Matthew McConaughey) after leaving the University at Buffalo, which dropped football at the end of the 1970 season.

McNally recalled that many Huntington residents initially didn't think it was appropriate to field a team so soon after the crash. But the opposition soon faded.

"When we went to spring practice after we got hired, all we had was the previous freshmen team and the new freshmen," he said. "And when we played the first game, the fans were so happy that they had a team again because they had been in total depression for a long time. It was a great feeling."

Although McNally has coached in three Super Bowls and tutored Hall of Fame offensive tackle Anthony Munoz, he said nothing compares to his four years at Marshall.

"In my 42 years of coaching, being a part of the rebuilding of Marshall is my most memorable experience," he said. "Just meeting some of the families of the players that were killed and some of the wives of the coaches who were killed, it was pretty emotional. It was hard at the time, but when you look back on it 30 years later, you say, 'Boy, what a great time that was.' "

McNally hasn't seen an advance screening of the movie but heard that his name is mentioned.

"I think it's something like, 'Hey McNally, what happened here?' " he said.

McNally's character apparently is in the film, though whoever cast the role obviously never met him.

"The guy who is playing me is about 6-foot-2," laughed McNally, who is about 5-6.

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Left tackle Jason Peters (bruised knee) and outside linebacker Takeo Spikes (sore knee and ankle) returned to the practice field Thursday but didn't participate in team drills. Coach Dick Jauron said the players are still questionable, though both said they expect to play Sunday against Miami.

Cornerback Terrence McGee (ankle) and strong safety Donte Whitner (hamstring) remain questionable, but they practiced again Thursday. Also questionable is linebacker John DiGiorgio (ankle), who didn't practice.

Meanwhile, backup defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson was added to the Dolphins' injury report as questionable after sitting out Thursday's practice with a sore knee. Starting wide receiver Chris Chambers (knee and ankle) practiced and was upgraded from questionable to probable.

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The NFL granted the Bills' request for a one-day extension to sell out Sunday's game. They have until 1 p.m. today to sell the remaining 4,800 tickets to avoid a television blackout.

The Bills have sold out every home game against the Dolphins since 1987. Buffalo's last two home games against Jacksonville and San Diego also failed to sell out before the deadline, snapping a streak of 16 consecutive sellouts and 27 of 28 overall.

Tickets can be purchased at the Ralph Wilson Stadium box office, the Bills Store in the Eastview Mall in Rochester, the team's Web site (buffalobills.com), all Ticketmaster outlets or by calling 1-877-BB-TICKS and 649-0015.

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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