Monday, April 7, 2008
Fans pack Allen Fieldhouse, streets to celebrate championship win
LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Thousands of people poured out of bars and restaurants and turned Massachusetts Street into a surging river of joyous humanity the instant Kansas captured the NCAA basketball championship Monday night.
Jayhawks fans, who packed Allen Fieldhouse and sports bars all over town, had become subdued when Kansas trailed Memphis by nine points with 2:12 left in the championship game.
After Kansas held off Memphis in overtime, fans in a jam-packed Allen Fieldhouse celebrate the school's first championship in 20 years.
But that only intensified their rapture when Mario Chalmers hit the game-tying 3-pointer that capped an amazing comeback and put the game into overtime.
Up and down this college town's bustling business district, shouts and screams were heard when Chalmers' fade-away jumper found its mark with 2 seconds left in regulation.
After the game, the crowd broke into chants of "Mario, Mario."
Meanwhile, more than 250 police officers stood by as the game wound down.
"Kansas fans usually are pretty good at times like these," said a Johnson County sheriff's officer who declined to give his name. "I doubt we'll have very much mischief, but you never know. A lot of people have been drinking a lot of beer."
An hour after the game, the only visible police action occurred when a young man carrying three bottles of beer walked to up to three policemen and began to vomit.
"You'd better give me those," one policeman said.
The young man handed him the bottles, apologized and began walking away. His girlfriend high-fived the policemen and told them, "Thanks for being nice."
A drizzling rain fell off and on in Lawrence during the game but had let up by the time the revelers hit the street for a celebration for which they had been waiting 20 years.
What made the Jayhawks' national championship even sweeter was the school and the coach they beat in Saturday's semifinal -- former Kansas coach Roy Williams, now at North Carolina.
"We beat Roy Williams to get to the championship game and then we won in a great game in overtime," said Chris Neverve, whose father owns the Red Lyon Tavern on Massachusetts Street. "It doesn't get any sweeter. It can't get any sweeter than this."
He called Chalmers' game-tying 3-pointer "the biggest shot in Kansas history."
A crowd estimated at about 10,000 watched the game at Allen Fieldhouse, which has a capacity of about 16,000.
Though the championship game was played hundreds of miles from Lawrence, fans at the fieldhouse rushed the court and celebrated for several minutes after the final buzzer. Some sat and cried, while others hugged each other.
Afterward, the huge throng headed across the University of Kansas campus toward Massachusetts Street.
"This is the best night of my life," said Matt Bradbury, a KU senior from Olathe. "I didn't think I'd ever see a better game in this building than the Georgia Tech game a few years ago, but I was wrong. This is just unbelievable."
At the Sports Dome, owner Brian Hoffman had 288 T-shirts that said "Kansas 2008 NCAA Champions" sitting in boxes before the game. He acknowledged that he was taking a risk by having the shirts printed ahead of time.
"If we win -- when we win -- tonight, I'll have thousands printed up," Hoffman said before tip-off. "I'm using seven different vendors."
Hoffman's gamble paid off.
"If we win, it's like Christmas for me," he said before the game. "If we win, this will carry me through the rest of the year, and in an economy that's kind of soft, that will be nice."