BOONE — Still days away from one of the biggest games of the year, or maybe many years, all was quiet on King Street.
Well, except for the constant hum of machines and the steady noise of construction projects that seem to never end here.
A group of students stood outside Macado’s Restaurant and talked football. Sort of.
“We’re playing Carolina this week?” one of the students asked Tuesday. “North Carolina?”
OK, so not everybody’s excited about this weekend, but most App students know this is the school’s 2019 Super Bowl.
Appalachian State might be our only real football school, and most everywhere you go in the crowded little downtown area there are reminders of that. The storefronts are packed with items marketing the football program, everything from shirts and jerseys to pennants and those gosh-awful black-and-yellow striped overalls.
And, of course, the posters from that miracle day in Ann Arbor in 2007 when the Mountaineers pulled off the upset of the century, defeating Michigan in the Big House, forever giving Appalachian an identity and a foothold on the biggest stage in college football.
Yes, the Mountaineers are going to Chapel Hill this weekend. For the first time since 1940, Appalachian State will indeed play Carolina.
About a mile away, outside the Holmes Center, there was a different scene. Students lined up outside the door waiting for the last “limited number” of tickets to the game, some standing, some lying in the shade to escape the sweltering heat.
Athletics director Doug Gillin arranged to have ice cream passed out to those waiting. Teresa Eggers, the assistant AD for ticket operations, said she didn’t know specifically how many tickets were left over this week.
“All I know is I didn’t get any ice cream,” she said.
Joey Jones, the school’s senior AD for communications, said 4,300 tickets were allotted from UNC, and those were distributed to season-ticket holders and Yosef Club donors.
“None of the tickets were sold to the general public,” Jones said. “We expect there to be a lot more than 4,300 people there in black and gold though, just based on what we’ve heard from people getting tickets through other means.
There are tickets still out there on StubHub and other ticket outlets, but the price is going up. The cheapest ticket available is right at $100.
Andrew Ray, a junior recreation management and tourism major, said he’d heard that a lot of people will be driving from Boone to Chapel Hill this weekend.
“We can win this game, and a lot of people up here think so,” Ray said from behind the counter of Mast General Store. “App’s not doing bad this year. We definitely have the spunk.”
He said football is important to Boone’s economy, and he'll be eager to see Carolina make the return trip in 2022.
“Last week for the Charlotte game, the town was full,” he said. “Everyone was wearing green, going to the restaurants for food and drinks, coming into the Mast. When App’s winning, everything’s great."
An away game in this crowded little football town would be something Mack Brown would probably consider.
This isn’t just a big game for App. The North Carolina coach will be playing against the first school to hire him as a head coach way back in 1983.
He reminisced about his early days in Boone, recalling the very first night he arrived.
“I couldn't believe when I pulled into Boone, it was night, but those mountains were so high and I'd never seen mountains that high,” Brown said this week.
Brown and athletics director Jim Garner were standing on a street corner looking high above them.
“I said, ‘Jim, what is that?’ And he said, “That’s a house, they're that far up in the mountains.’”
Brown would only coach at Appalachian one year, but he and his wife, Sally, bought their own house near Grandfather Mountain, a house they still own to this day.
“I love Appalachian State,” he said. “I love Boone. It's a place I go every chance I get and fell in love with the place and the people in the mountains of North Carolina.”
He also claims a small responsibility for Appalachian’s three national titles, something he kids former App State coach Jerry Moore about from time to time.
“I know who was standing on the sideline and who wasn’t,” Moore said.
They remain friends. While the two programs have little in common, Brown and staff adviser Sparky Woods, both former App State head coaches, represent a long thread from one program to the other.
“I know people up here are excited about this game,” Moore said. “I don’t know if the Carolina fans are or not.”
If there were any UNC fans in Boone this week, they were laying low. Not one store had one item in Carolina Blue, and not a single store owner considered it. Of all the relationships in North Carolina among colleges and universities, this is one that has never gone anywhere.
For the first time since 1940, when Appalachian State was in the NAIA's North State Conference and Carolina played in the Southern Conference, a football school from the mountains will play a basketball school from the Piedmont.
Deep down, everyone from Boone to Chapel Hill knows that Appalachian is capable of winning this game. It would probably be considered the second biggest win for the Apps, though the fans can now point to bowl wins between Michigan and now.
For Carolina, it would be a loss for the ages.
That’s why you don’t hear much chatter coming from UNC fans this week.
A long line of cars will head down the hill Saturday morning for a game unlike anything in this state in almost 80 years.
This is indeed a once-in-a-lifetime sporting event.
Appalachian State at Carolina.