The team landed at RDU International around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday and loaded buses for a rally at the Dean Smith Center scheduled for 4:15 p.m. When the team arrived, thousands of people were waiting for them. Tar Heel radio announcer Woody Durham was on hand and introduced the players and coaching staff to the crowd.
When Raymond Felton, Marvin Williams and Rashad McCants, many in the crowd wanted them to stay a few more years to try for another championship instead of jumping to the NBA.
However, when junior Sean May, who was voted the Most Outstanding Player, addressed the crowd, he said he would help to convince them to stay, possibly meaning that he will stay in school another year.
Franklin Street Comes Alive After Big Win Over Illinois
With just 10 seconds left on the clock Monday night, the party started in the Smith Center. Fans dressed and even painted in Carolina blue poured onto a tarp protecting the floor of the Tar Heels' home court, leaping up and down in ecstasy as North Carolina claimed its first national basketball title since 1993.
"I'm so happy I can't even explain it,'' said 17-year-old Brandon Wilkins of Roxboro, one of thousands of fans who watched on a mammoth television screen as North Carolina defeated Illinois 75-70. "I'm so happy for Roy (Williams) it's just crazy.''
Bars around the UNC campus began filling with fans by midday Monday to await the late evening broadcast of the game in St. Louis.
Michael Hayek moved here from Iowa in November and had heard plenty about the fanatical devotion of North Carolina basketball fans. If he had any doubts, they were dispelled by the Tar Heels' run to their first national championship game in a dozen years.
Hayek, the general manager of Buffalo Wild Wings just off the university campus, said fans began pouring in when the restaurant opened at 11 a.m. Monday - more than eight hours before tip-off. By 5 p.m., the establishment with a 250-person capacity was full and had a line of about 30 waiting outside.
"I don't know how many students I've had in here with a textbook in one hand and a tall beer in the other,'' he said.
As the game ended, thousands of people jammed Franklin Street, the main public party drag outside campus that was closed to traffic for the occasion. Exuberant fans leapt bonfires, tugged on street signs, and screamed and cheered.
Gretchen and Van McNair had watched the game at their home nearby, too nervous -- and superstitious -- to stir from their chairs in the tense final minutes.
``You gotta work the mojo,'' Gretchen McNair said as the retired couple joined the Franklin Street celebration.
Police estimated the crowd reached 45,000 at its height, but only 15 arrests -- mainly for assault and disorderly conduct -- were reported. Capt. Brian Curran said 270 officers from Chapel Hill and other agencies were guarding the area, confiscating alcohol -- and random pieces of furniture destined for the bonfires.
Authorities said 24 people were treated for burns, and 11 of those were sent to the hospital.
Title Has Been Long Time Coming For Many UNC Fans
North Carolina is a tradition-rich program making its 16th appearance in the Final Four, an NCAA record. It came into Monday's game with three NCAA championships - the last in 1993 - but has gone through plenty of frustration, change and turmoil in the years since.
There have been four trips to the Final Four, but all ended with a loss in the national semifinals. There was the retirement of legendary coach Dean Smith in October 1997, an announcement that started a six-year period of instability in the program that included an 8-20 record under Matt Doherty in 2002.
A year after that debacle, Doherty resigned in an ugly public split with the university.
But with the hiring of Roy Williams -- Smith's assistant of 10 years and a graduate of the university - in April 2003, North Carolina fans felt they finally had the right guy to bring the program back in line with its storied tradition.
And having "ol' Roy" back in Chapel Hill is just part of the reason this year's run to the final game is so special for Tar Heel fans.
As many as 10,000 more crowded into the Smith Center to watch the game on a 16-by-20-foot screen, their faces and, in some cases, chests daubed in Carolina blue.
Travis Brafford wore a suit made entirely of blue and white pompoms, while his brother, Robbie, donned a blue hat with flashing red lights. Robbie, now 32, was a sophomore at UNC when the team won its last championship 12 years ago.
``I think that, after that long, people become more fanatical about it. The Holy Grail of winning it all means a lot more to you than if you win it every couple of years,'' he said.
David and Cathy Annas came from their home in Statesville to cheer their favorite team, as they had done in the 1993 title season.
``It's been a drought,'' Cathy Annas said. ``It's our time. Welcome home, Roy.''
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