Upset leaves its mark on town

September 09, 2007|By RICK MAESE

BOONE, N.C. — BOONE, N.C.-- --The buzz on the streets is palpable, and trust me on this, it is loud. The pride for Appalachian State cannot be questioned. The buzz inside Ink Link, however, is low and steady. The Mountaineer pride in here cannot be erased.

The buzz stems from a tattoo gun, and in the past week, more than a dozen Mountaineers fans have marched through the front door - for the sake of accuracy, some have stumbled - and asked the colorful man holding the gun to ensure that they'd never forget the most amazing win that no one ever imagined.

"There was one guy just last night - an older, wealthy type - and he wanted a tattoo of the scoreboard from last week right on his [butt]," said David King, co-owner of Ink Link whose arms have more color than an ice cream shop's freezer. "We put it on him - the score, the game clock, the whole thing - right on his [butt]."

Fans are intent on remembering the upset over Michigan for a lifetime, and even though another team was on the opposing sideline yesterday, it was the week-old game against the Wolverines that still had everyone talking.

One week later, Appalachian State found itself in a blowout after all, but it wasn't the cuddly, lovable underdog this time. The opponent was Lenior-Rhyne (no, it's not a French perfume; it's a 1,600-student Division II team in western North Carolina) and the Mountaineers were heavy favorites. They did to the Bears what the Wolverines were supposed to do them, winning big, 48-7.

"Praise the Lord we didn't get anybody hurt," Lenior-Rhyne coach Fred Goldsmith said when it was all over.

The most giddy fan base in the nation packed the stadium to watch their giant-killers in person, most for the first time this season. More than 28,000 passed through the gates of Kidd Brewer Stadium, which has an official capacity of 16,600 in a city with an official population of just 13,000.

Fans watched from grassy areas, atop recreational vehicles, and crowded among the trees that surround the stadium. Though the scale is smaller, the atmosphere and excitement surrounding yesterday's game matches anything in the Big Ten or Southeastern Conference.

"They may have five acres of tobacco or 20 acres of Christmas trees, but they love the Mountaineers," said Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore, who led his team to the past two Division I-AA national titles. "And we love them."

Moore took an unscheduled drive yesterday before the game to pick up his wife's car from the auto shop. He said he couldn't believe what he saw - seven hours before kickoff, and the town simply couldn't wait. "I'm driving down Rivers Street and I'm thinking, `What in the world is going on?'" he said. "They had all those tents, all that stuff in parking lots at 8, 8:30 this morning."

That's what happens when you become the first small school in college football history to topple a ranked big school. They gave hope to little guys everywhere and signaled a big change in the college football landscape, an injection of much-needed parity across the board.

All week around here, you couldn't turn a corner without getting slapped in the face with Mountaineer mania. Signs celebrating the Wolverine win hung in front of hotels, barbecue joints, women's boutiques, McDonald's and dance clubs. The young girl hanging out the drive-thru window at Wendy's was covered in gold yesterday, and the sign hanging over the town mall asked, "Michigan who?"

And the T-shirts are everywhere. Local stores started selling them just a few hours after the Michigan win, and Moore joked that his team has afforded Boone screen-printers the opportunity to retire comfortably.

There's a gold shirt that reads, "Betcha know where Boone, NC is now!!!" and a black one asking, "Where's Ann Arbor?" A gray one that says, "Got 400k?" on the front and "ASU does" on the back, referring to the guaranteed paycheck the Wolverines dangled to lure the Mountaineers up to Ann Arbor.

David Jackson, the Moutaineers' radio voice, said the small mountain community revolves around the school and the football team is a big part of that. Still, he conceded that yesterday, the vibe felt like "Appalachian State football on steroids."

"It's just all anybody's talking about - in classes, around town, on buses, at the drugstore. It's all that's going on," Jackson said. "I don't think it's sunk in for anybody yet. It's such an amazing accomplishment, and we're still in the midst of the aftermath. It feels like the world's longest post-game show. It honestly might not be until after the season's over that we can really reflect on it."

Around the stadium yesterday, no one gave two thoughts about the afternoon's Lenior-Rhyne matchup. They were exchanging Where-Were-You stories from the weekend before. One grad student was listening on the car radio and had to pull off on the side of the road because she got so excited. An undergraduate joined the goal-post parade and had the photos on his phone to prove it.

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