What’s all the fuss about Appalachian State?

Aug 29, 2014

Well, it goes back to 2007, the year the NCAA allowed schools to add a 12th regular season game, for no reason but revenue.

Yes, another shameless money grab on the backs, knees, and skulls of amateur athletes. 

To find an extra opponent, Michigan had to scramble.

When a Division I-AA team called Appalachian State agreed to come to Ann Arbor for a flat fee of $400,000, fans wondered why Michigan had scheduled a team from the second tier for the first time – and, where the heck is that place?

It turns out Appalachian State isn’t even a state.  (I looked it up.)    

Their fight song didn’t instill much fear, either: “Hi-Hi-yike-us.  No-body like us.  We are the Mountaineers!  Always a-winning.  Always a-grinning.  Always a-feeling fine.  You bet, hey.  Go Apps!”

“The Victors,” it was not.

No ranked Division I-A, like the no. 5 Michigan team, had ever lost to a I-AA team.  The Wolverines were thinking about national titles, not upsets.   

The point spread was set at a staggering 27 points – and some Las Vegas sports books wouldn’t take that bet.

Not since 1891, when Michigan beat Ann Arbor High School 61-0, did the home opener seem like such a mismatch.   

If the Wolverines weren't ready for the Mountaineers, the Mountaineers were ready for Michigan.

Nobody gave the Mountaineers much thought – but they should have.

Appalachian State had just won two national titles in their division.  They weren’t big, but they were fast, well-conditioned and well-coached – and they’d been studying Michigan since the game was announced.  

If the Wolverines weren’t ready for the Mountaineers, the Mountaineers were ready for Michigan.  On the third play, the Mountaineers hit a 68-yard touchdown pass -- then poured on three more scores to jump ahead at halftime, 28-17. 

With less than a minute left, the Mountaineers still held on to a two-point lead, but Michigan responded with a desperation 46-yard pass play to set up a 37-yard field goal attempt, with six seconds left.

As crazy as the day had been, the Wolverines were surely about to escape. Right?

But a Mountaineer speedster ran straight through the line, and smothered the kick in his stomach.

Appalachian State’s announcer went…apoplectic.  ESPN still plays it, just for kicks, and ABC immediately declared the victory the greatest upset in the history of college football. 

... ABC immediately declared the victory the greatest upset in the history of college football.

But there was no joy in Arborville.  Mighty Michigan had struck out.  A few grown men left the stadium in tears, the bars became morgues, and the story was broadcast on virtually every channel, even political ones. 

In the Michigan locker room, no one yelled.  No one screamed.  No one threw their helmets.  They slumped in their stalls, head on hands, and stared off into space, dazed. They could not comprehend it.  

There was no spinning it -- and to head coach Lloyd Carr’s credit, he didn’t try.

“We were not a well prepared football team,” he said.  “That is my job.”

Carr had won more Big Ten titles than Fritz Crisler and more national titles than Bo Schembechler, but that night fans flooded President Coleman’s inbox with hate mail, some disturbing enough to show University security.

I stopped by Coach Lloyd Carr’s office later that week.  I found him with the lights off, reclining in his chair in front of the TV, watching game tape.  He looked like he had swallowed a hand grenade.

He said he’d been “warning our guys for years that one of these days a MAC team is going to beat us.  And you don’t want to be the team that gets beaten.”

There was no need to tell him what he already knew: Appalachian State isn’t even a MAC team. 

The Wolverines willed themselves to eight wins, then finished by beating defending champion Florida in their bowl game, but what the Wolverines lost that day is their aura of invincibility, especially at home. 

They will not return to their former glory until they get that back, and tomorrow’s rematch would be a good time to start.