There may be no better place to root for an underdog than Boone, North Carolina, home of Appalachian State University. Ever since September 1, 2007, residents of the town believe anything is possible. It was on that day that ASU’s Mountaineers scored one of the greatest upsets in college football history, a 34-32 victory over mighty Michigan.
There were 109,000 spectators in Michigan’s Big House, seven times the population of Boone. “I didn’t think we had a chance,” said Mountaineer fan Danny Williams, who made a 600-mile trip to the game with his wife Elaine. “It was unreal.”
Almost as unreal was England goalkeeper Robert Green’s fumble that enabled the U.S. soccer team to come away with a 1-1 tie last Saturday in the first round of the World Cup. A packed house in the Boone Saloon enjoyed the upset (as the headlines said: “U.S. Wins 1-1”). World Cup fever was running high in the “App-a-LAH-chians.”
I was in the town named after Daniel Boone to meet some future in-laws and their friends during a feast in the heavily wooded mountains near the Tennessee border. The chopped Boston pork butt was the most savory barbecue I’ve ever tasted. The good times went far into the night, as fireflies flickered around the perimeter of the party site.
“You want to see something special? Go see the synchronized fireflies at Great Smokey Mountain,” Williams said. “It happens about this time of year. Thousands of them light up in sequence, like making a wave at a football game.”
College football is a favorite topic in Boone. They talk about the “back-to-back-to-back” Division I playoff championships won by the Mountaineers in 2005-’06-’07. And, of course, that day in Michigan.
Meanwhile, in Santa Barbara, the World Cup is off to a patriotic start. “People are singing the anthems,” said James Rafferty of the Press Room. He started turning people away from the pub four hours before the kickoff between the U.S. and England.
There has been a dearth of goals in the opening round of the tournament. “People are trying not to lose the first game, instead of trying to win,” Rafferty said. “The second round of games should be different.”
The first former UCSB player to earn a World Cup cap was defender Tony Lochhead, who played all 90 minutes in New Zealand’s 1-1 tie with Slovakia. The current Gaucho soccer team includes Ghana natives Waid Ibrahim and Michael Tetteh, who celebrated their country’s 1-0 win over Serbia.
The drone of vuvuzelas, those horns favored by South African fans, are getting on some people’s nerves, as they blare without relief through every World Cup game. But who would deny the host fans their expression of joy? As I heard from one of the good people in Boone: “Happiness is like peeing in your pants. Everybody can see it, but only you know how it feels.”
FORESTERS ON THE MOVE: The Santa Barbara Foresters started to pick up steam with a weekend sweep of the San Luis Obispo Blues on the road last weekend. A perennial power in summer league amateur baseball, the Foresters will open a 12-game homestand Friday (5pm) against the Orange County Pioneers at UCSB’s Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. On Saturday (5pm) and Sunday (1pm) they will face the Seattle Studs, the team Santa Barbara defeated in the finals of the 2008 National Baseball Congress World Series. Bolstering the Foresters soon will be the arrival of Texas shortstop Brandon Loy, their MVP last year, and three pitchers from the Longhorns.
The Foresters made their annual visit to Angels Stadium on Monday night with several young cancer patients sponsored by the team’s Hugs for Cubs Foundation. The delegation, including families of the children, numbered 85 in all. Before the game between the Angels and the Milwaukee Brewers, the youngsters were admitted to the field and talked with L.A. manager Mike Scioscia. Also visiting with them was Kevin Frandsen, one of a couple dozen former Foresters in the majors. Having lost his own brother to kidney cancer in 2004, Frandsen brought some empathy to the plate. He’s off to a good start with the Angels, hitting .360 since being called up in mid May.
ACROSS THE PLAINS: Three days into the Race Across America, the Kalyra Women’s Cycling Team crossed the Continental Divide and reached speeds of faster than 50 mph on the downhill side. They hope to reach the finish line at Annapolis, Maryland, late Friday or early Saturday.