Other Campuses: UNC erupts in celebration

By The Chronicle

(U-WIRE) CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Franklin Street came alive Monday night when the wildest celebration in the country erupted after the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill clinched the men’s basketball NCAA Tournament title for the first time since 1993.

Watching as the final seconds of the tight game ticked away, fans climbed onto bar stools and tables or crowded around the windows of packed restaurants to get a glimpse of the Tar Heels defeating the University of Illinois on the hundreds of television screens broadcasting the game. Pumping fists in the air or wringing their hands with anxiety, students, locals and out-of-towners of all ages watched breathlessly until the clock hit zero.

And then the floodgates opened.

When UNC claimed victory, cheering fans began pouring out of the bars and restaurants that line Franklin Street. As the earliest arrivals hurled toilet paper in the air and leapt into each other’s arms under the streetlights, other students came running from houses and dormitories blocks away. The street was soon nearly invisible as close to 45,000 people packed the pavement.

The exuberant mob’s cries of victory echoed into the night as drunken fans hoisted themselves onto lampposts and tree branches, beat drums and set off fireworks that exploded precariously close to the crowd.

“This is the epitome of my college career,” UNC sophomore Jared Lanier said, caught amid the chaos. “It’s bigger than I expected it to be. I’ve been a fan since the first grade. This is wonderful.”

Chanting with the rest of the crowd as the hum of news helicopters filled the air, UNC senior Max Loosen said nothing in his life compared to the excitement of a national championship win. As fans ignited a bonfire in the middle of the street and leapt over the flames, Loosen said he only hoped the party would get “worse.”

The celebration on Franklin Street started as early as 11 a.m., when people began lining up to get into bars and restaurants. Buffalo Wild Wings General Manager Michael Hayek said he had to close the doors when the restaurant reached its 250-person capacity – even though a large group of fans remained on the sidewalk.

Two UNC students who called themselves Derick Foss and Jon Jednak said they stood in line for two and a half hours to get into the Ham’s Restaurant patio. Taking a break from cheering during halftime, Jednak said he planned to burn an old couch in his apartment if the Tar Heels won. Foss chimed in, noting that he planned to party even if UNC lost.

“Either way, we’re going home drunk and without a couch,” Foss said.

With many venues requiring pre-paid tickets for admission or filled to capacity, the fans that did not manage to get a seat inside a bar crowded onto street corners or crammed into parking lots.

“This is where the die-hard fans are at,” said Wake Technical Community College student Tony Atkins, gesturing to a rag-tag group of drunken fans in the Ham’s parking lot.

Sitting in the bed of a pickup truck with Atkins, North Carolina State University junior Joseph Flory said he came to watch the game even though he is not a UNC fan because he wanted to support the ACC.

“I’m representing the ACC by going buck wild,” Flora yelled. “I probably won’t remember.”

In Spanky’s Restaurant and Bar, patrons slammed chairs on the floor and cheered on UNC head coach Roy Williams and the Tar Heels when Illinois’ score began to climb. Fans shook their heads and got quiet when the Fighting Illini tied the game up with just over five minutes to go but said they were only a little nervous because they had “Ray” – junior point guard Raymond Felton.

Even as the game came down to the wire, Spanky’s employee Carolyn Pearce, who graduated from UNC last May, said she could not wait for the victory celebration to begin.

“It’s going to be a huge party,” she said. “There will definitely be the usual flooding of the streets, but this is something extra special because it’s a national championship, and it hasn’t happened in 12 years.”

When the Tar Heels won in 1993, fans painted Franklin Street Carolina blue, and there were rumors circulating Monday there would be a repeat performance if UNC beat Illinois. Police asked local stores to stop selling blue paint after UNC advanced to the championship over the weekend. Nonetheless, fans got their hands on a few buckets of paint and spilled them on the street after the victory.

Some local residents and alumni said Monday’s celebration was quieter than parties after past national championships in Chapel Hill and noted that the crowd was much calmer than fans at the University of Connecticut in 2004. After winning the national championship last year, students at UConn were photographed turning over cars, rioting and setting fires on campus.

Even if the party on Franklin Street was tamer than expected, plenty of fans made the most of the victory, celebrating well into the early hours of the morning.

“I’ve never felt better because we deserve it,” Loosen said over the roar of the crowd. “The players deserve it, Roy deserves it and all of the students love them.”

-Staff Reports