If you grew up in North Carolina in the mid to late 1980s, chances are you had at least one teacher that was a graduate of Appalachian State. My first brush with App State Football was a Black Saturday schedule poster across the hall from my second-grade classroom. My third-grade teacher had one. Same with my fourth and fifth grade teachers, my middle school PE coach, and one of our Assistant Principals. Black Saturday posters were everywhere! My teachers were never over the top about their allegiance to the Black and Gold, but that poster was always on the wall, and those images became the first glance at what the world of Mountaineer Football was all about.
Simply stated, Black Saturday was a marketing theme that started with Mack Brown’s one-year tenure in 1983. Sparky Woods was an assistant to Brown that season and eventually elevated to Head Coach after Mack left. Many old timers (yes, you Steve Griffin) will link Black Saturday to Sparky Woods. Not only did the Mountaineers have a catchy theme under their new head coach, but the roots of the modern-day dynasty were planted in the win over Furman in ’84, the SoCon Championship of ’86, and the utter domination that was the 1987 season.
As the Mountaineers were rolling opponents on the field, Black Saturday helped set the tone. It was a slogan that helped set the tone for App State Football being a fully immersive experience. The efforts of App State All Americans like Dino Hackett and John Settle helped sell the narrative. Boone was where your dreams of winning games went to die. From 1983-88, the Apps tallied a home record of 27-7-1, a winning percentage of better than 78%.
In addition to the schedule posters, App State fans wore shirts with Black Saturday logos, there were billboards throughout the state, there was even a jingle that sounded like it was straight off a Mike & the Mechanics B-side that was used in ticket commercials on the radio (Black Saturday….the Mountaineers are takin’ the field).
Black Saturday faded away shortly after Jerry Moore arrived as Head Coach in 1989. Now coach, new staff, new ideas (sound familiar?), and quite honestly a new time in our country helped bring about the change. Other slogans were used at times. The 1996 season was dubbed as “Unfinished Business,” after the magical ’95 season fell short. The 1998 season brought “The Greatest Show on Turf.” There were elephants involved – I swear I’m not making that up! No matter the year or the slogan, nothing stuck like Black Saturday.
In the early 2000s, there was a decision made to bring back Black Saturday as a nod to the historical period that had brought so much success at Kidd Brewer Stadium. After a year, Black Saturday was reverted to a one-time promotion – always the best game on the schedule – ALWAYS Furman or Georgia Southern. Black Saturday games were usually tight, drama filled, Maalox moments. Here is a list of some great memories
2002 – October 12th: the 1st stand-alone Black Saturday vs. Furman – Oct 12 – Miracle on the Mountain
2003 – October 19: 1st Georgia Southern appearance for Black Saturday – W 28-21
2004 – October 9th : Hell’s Bells ring on 3rd down for the first time (an Adam Witten suggestion by the way) and immediately produce a Brad West interception. Oh yeah, and Richie Williams threw for about 10,000 yards in a 30-29 win over Furman.
2005 – October 15: A 24-7 win over ranked Georgia Southern that started a string of nine-consecutive wins over I-AA teams to close out the first National Championship Season (Lost to LSU in the middle).
2006 – October 28 : #1 App State vs. # 8 Furman and Corey Lynch’s blocked field goal and return for touchdown just before halftime swung open a tight game en route to a 40-7 thrashing of the Paladins. In a slightly more dramatic game the following year, that game changing event would be referred to as, “The Furman Block.” Spoiler – they ran that play fairly successfully in the 2007 season opener!
2007 – October 20th: A 38-35 loss to Georgia Southern. Enough about that
2008 – October 25th: Another ranked battle between App and Furman (2 vs. 18). App won 26-14 and Furman was never really relevant in the SoCon title chase for several years after.
2009 – October 24: App beats Georgia Southern 52-16 on Armanti’s last Black Saturday. If memory serves, I think he about out gained the entire Eagles roster.
One of my favorite Black Saturday memories was 2012, as App State beats Furman in the regular season finale to win a share of the SoCon title. It would be the school’s last. It was Jerry Moore’s last. The team carried him off the field.
Black Saturday means many things to different generations of App State fans. The common thread is success. Whether it was wrapped around the 1987 Black Shirt defense (read up on those numbers some time – UNREAL) or the memories of the glory years of the Black & Gold’s reign as the class of the FCS, Black Saturday has meaning to us all.
Times change, people change, and priorities change. I get excited for Black Saturday games against Georgia Southern today. When we first made the jump to the Sun Belt, we thought Georgia State could be that “other,” team. Then they had to go and not score a touchdown for the first few games, and it made for a hard sell.
Black Saturday belongs on the schedule every year. Whether it is attached to an opponent that draws as much emotion as it once did is certainly up for debate. More importantly, Black Saturday can remind us where we’ve come from, and that all of the success of today was built on players, coaches, teams, and moments that should never be forgotten, no matter where we are, what we’re ranked, or who we play!