Redemption. That was the word on every Carolina fan’s lips. After the Tar Heels lost in heartbreaking fashion one year ago, this season was all about redemption.
Tar Heel fans got their wish. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, fans rushed the court. They jumped around. Hugged each other. Laughed, shouted, cried. Student Shay Parker could hardly describe his emotions.
“Man, I don’t even know what to think,” Parker said. “I just think back to last year and compared to this year, it’s amazing to see my boys pull through. We did it. Last year I wanted to cry. Or just go in my room and lock myself up and never come out again. It was ridiculous.”
The UNC men’s basketball team beat Gonzaga last night to win the university’s sixth national title. The game was played in Glendale, Arizona, but more than 9,000 Carolina fans watched from the Dean Smith Center on campus.
Mingled throughout the thousands in attendance were older graduates who have been fans for years.
Tony Collins stood in the middle of the court and pointed up at the five national championship banners already hanging in the rafters. He smiled as he imagined the sixth. He graduated in 1985 and remembered back to the Dean Smith years.
“I remember the shot that Jordan made. It was fantastic,” Collins said. “Same feeling here. To be able to bring young men positive influence. Six guys who are doing well in school, in life. We were here last year. We were all here last year. Same energy, disappointment. This year. Champions. Yeah baby.”
Some fans traveled quite a distance to be in the Dean Dome. And although there was nothing but excitement afterward, the crowd exuded a nervous energy through much of the game.
Neither team ever built a substantial lead and Carolina was trailing at halftime. Alumni Monique, of the class of 2008, lives in Raleigh and has stayed an avid fan. Coming to the Dean Smith Center was a no-brainer for her.
“There is something about the atmosphere of being around your fellow classmates, being around some of the underclassmen,” she said. “There’s just something about being in the Dean Dome that just brings this comradery and Carolina spirit.”
As with all major UNC victories, students flocked to Franklin Street to celebrate after the game. This included the tradition of students building small fires in the street and then jumping over the flames. A few students got rowdy and at least four students were burned, according to officials. But police and other emergency personnel helped keep the crowd of about 5,500 from getting too out of hand.
Music poured down the street. Students high fived and hugged, cheering each other on and reveling in the victory, including Diamond Henderson, a UNC sophomore. As she darted through the crowd, she looked for anyone to celebrate with.
“So last year, my heart was kind of yanked out of my chest,” Henderson said. "But, this is redemption season. We came we saw we conquered. We had a couple downfalls, but we came through, we pulled through. Resilience at its finest. Carolina way. The Carolina way.”
As the night went on, word spread that the university would hold a reception when the basketball team returns to campus on Tuesday evening.
As time went on, students began to slowly trickle out. Some went on to celebratory parties. Others off to bed to rest for classes. But these Carolina fans will no doubt remember this sweet victory for a long time. Especially with the extra sweetener of redemption.