Saturday, November 8, 2014

Tour Makes a Local Stop to Home of 3-time FCS National Champions

If you're not from the state of North Carolina, then Appalachian State University might seem the odd duck on a list of sites visited on a national college football tour.  There are dozens of combined division 1A national titles on my stops, to this point, so maybe even people in my home state look at the relatively small Boone, NC, formerly division 1AA school as a strange member of the list.  You just need to go there and see for yourself.  I'm not sure there is a more obvious example of what the success of college football can do for a school.  Three straight division 1AA (now called FBS) national championships from 2005-2007 and one unbelievable victory over a top 5-ranked division 1A (now called FCS) opponent has changed App. State quite a bit from the summer of 2005 (when I last visited) to early November 2012.  There are some new buildings on campus in addition to the $50 million worth of football facility enhancements (which included premium seating being tacked onto the football stadium along with 10,000 additional general admission seats).  Compared to any program nationally, it looks very good up close.  It puts similar programs to shame.

Kidd Brewer Stadium

2012 was originally supposed be my local, North Carolina tour.  I firmed up plans to go to App State in the spring and had hoped to add East Carolina (known for its passionate fan base, as well) as the fall approached.  My dad's worsening condition took ECU off the list and made Notre Dame's final home game of the season my second and final tour stop.  One week prior to heading back to South Bend, I made the trek west from my house in central NC to Boone - one of my absolute favorite places to visit when I was in college, but also a university whose football team I had never previously seen live (despite numerous opportunities).  The trip got off to a rocky start when, on the night before, my buddy Chris contracted a strange illness that made him unable to go with me.  I halfheartedly attempted to find someone to take the ticket, but knew of a few others that were going to be in town for the game.  I decided to go it alone.  Oddly, 2012's tour was completely flown solo.  I went to App and Notre Dame by myself.  App was a game-time decision for me.  I awoke that morning and decided that it was a gorgeous fall day perfect for watching football.  I contacted an old high school friend named Sharon, who I had fortunately been working with over the previous year on our high school reunion.  I say fortunately because, frankly, I had not seen her in over half a decade before the reunion planning.  If it were not for the reunion, I might not have known that she was going.  She turned out to be a major reason why my App football experience was so positive.  I called her once I arrived in Boone and was ushered right over to her awesome tailgating spot.

Most of my tour stops have found me aimlessly wandering prior to games, drinking a beer provided by an on-the-street venue and soaking in the unfamiliarity of the given campus.  I had been to App a dozen times.  I wanted the "I'm a huge App fan" tailgating experience; Sharon, her husband, and her friends were the perfect group to be around for exactly that.  They knew what they were doing; they had done this tailgating routine in that very tailgating spot for every home game over several previous seasons.  Nice people, all of which welcomed the lonely stranger who came to the game by himself with warm greetings and offerings for various drinks.  Thank you again, was great tailgating with you "at The Rock."  All around her spot next to the stadium, there were thousands of Mountaineer fans gearing up for a shot at another Southern Conference Championship (which is what they achieved that day with a victory over rival Furman).

This was a unique tailgating vehicle
After a bit of spirited tailgating, I met up with another friend of mine, Dean (who, I might add, was rocking a pretty sweet mustache that weekend).  It was visits to see him and his roommates at App back in the day that had made Boone such a destination in my undergraduate years.  On an unseasonably warm day for mid-November, we made our way into Kidd Brewer Stadium.  Dean filled me in on the changes that had taken place at App during and after their string of national championships.  I was very impressed by what I saw and what I heard.  The fans were crazy for their Mountaineers; it got pretty loud in there.  App dominated the first half before allowing a spirited comeback by the Paladins.  As the final whistle blew, the fans rushed the field in celebration of the school's 12th Southern Conference title.  It was especially memorable because it was the final regular season coaching appearance by Mountaineer legend, Jerry Moore, who retired after his 24th year as App State's head coach.  It was also the last So Con game that the school would ever play.  The next year, App moved up to Div. 1A/FBS.   

Me and Mr. Mustachio, Dean
My walks through campus, and particularly the moments before the games start when I look around at all the fans in the stadium, often spark favorite memories of watching the teams play on TV.  It had been five years from the time that I attended an App game to the last time that I had watched them on TV - the upset of Michigan that made the cover of Sports Illustrated.  Michigan football ranks closely with cleaning up dog doo on my list of least favorite things on this planet.  App beating them on the first day of the 2007 season helped brighten my day after Notre Dame got spanked to start their worst campaign in team history.  On that beautiful day in 2012, I found myself wondering what it must have been like to be on the App campus back then.  Already with two national titles in a row earned through a legitimate College Football Playoff, it must have been a helluva thrill to beat a top 5 team en route to a third straight national championship.  As big a football fan as I am, I'm quite confident that, had I been a student there when all that was happening, it would have absolutely made my college experience.

I'll always remember App State as site of some of my most enjoyable college experiences.  I've never met anyone that went there that didn't know how to have a good time.  Maybe it's a pre-requisite to attend, being adept at having fun.  As I found out in 2012, it's also a school that has found the right formula on Saturdays, combining the beautiful Boone atmosphere with rich modern football history.  I had a newborn and wife to get home to that evening, but I imagine from past experience that from "The Rock" to Klondike to Geno's, App State was hopping after securing another championship for the trophy case. 

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