VCU fans celebrate Final Four-bound Rams’ upset
A day of excitement, celebration and delirium wasn’t quite
enough for VCU basketball fans, who turned out late Sunday night to
welcome home their triumphant Rams.
Less than 12 hours after Virginia Commonwealth pulled off one of
the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history, fans braved the cold
to greet Shaka Smart and his Final Four-bound team.
The Rams’ arrived at the Siegel Center, their home arena, well
after 1 a.m., greeted by about 5,000 fans inside who were chanting
and singing to pass the time until the team arrived.
Smart was the first team member they saw, and as he walked into
view with both arms thrust high in the air, the screaming and
cheering reached deafening levels, and a chant of ‘Shaka! Shaka!
Shaka!’ soon erupted. The crowd also chanted ‘We want Butler,’
VCU’s next opponent on Saturday night.
When they started the season, Smart told the crowd, many of whom
hadn’t stopped partying, the Rams’ goal was to reach the round of
16, something no VCU team had accomplished.
”When we got to San Antonio, we said, ‘Why not go to the Final
Four?”’ Smart told the crowd. ””And now that we’re going to the
Final Four, we say, ‘Why not win the whole thing?”’
The crowd went wild, cheering and chanting as Smart introduced
Jamie Skeen, who was clutching a basketball as the most outstanding
player of the Southwest Regional, and point guard Joey Rodriguez,
who held the trophy for winning the regional championship above his
Smart also introduced Bradford Burgess, whose layin with 7
seconds left beat Florida State in overtime in the regional
semifinals, and Brandon Rozzell, whose 3-point shooting has been
key all tournament long.
”All the people that didn’t believe in us on Selection Sunday,
what are they saying now?” Smart asked the crowd, continuing the
Rams’ rallying cry since they were selected to play in the
tournament, then dismissed as undeserving by television
Smart ran off the list of teams the Rams have sent home, all
from power conferences. Southern Cal of the Pac 10. Georgetown of
the Big East. Purdue of the Big Ten. Florida State of the Atlantic
Coast Conference. And on Sunday, top-seeded powerhouse Kansas of
the Big 12.
All but the victory against the Seminoles came by 10 points or
About 1,400 students watched VCU’s 71-61 victory on the big
screens inside the Siegel Center, then poured out onto Broad Street
– and main thoroughfare – to party when it was over.
Many, it seemed, came back to welcome the team home.
Before the team arrived, cars driving by the Siegel Center
honked, a bus driver pulled up and screamed ”VCU, Final Four
Baby” into his microphone, drawing huge cheers from the crowd.
The steadily growing crowd chanted and sang popular songs, and
cheered itself, too.
”This puts us on the map,” said Seaver Woolfolk, 24, a senior
psychology major. ”You can feel the momentum growing nationally.
Everyone is pulling for VCU as the underdog.”
Shamiya Dale, 24, was first in line at one entrance, and said
she’d arrived at 9 p.m.
Dale said she was working at Sam’s Club while the game was going
on, and grateful her post in the jewelry department was right next
to electronics so she could watch the game.
”It was very exciting,” she said, until the Jayhawks closed to
within two in the second half. With the crowd growing in front of
the televisions, ”My heart was beating like crazy, but I didn’t
give up on them. I knew how hard they play and that they wouldn’t
Dale, who graduated in December with a Master’s degree in
teaching, was among the first to arrive at the Siegel Center, where
lines of hundreds of students and fans formed at both ends.
Stephanie Bell came around 9 p.m., too. She said she wasn’t able
to watch the game until halftime, and while delighted with the
14-point lead, worried as Kansas came back.
”I was sweating bullets when I saw Kansas close that gap, but I
knew they would pull through,” the 26-year-old, who graduated from
VCU in December 2008 said. ”I think they thrive off the negative
comments, and all the people saying they didn’t deserve to be
Bell said she rarely makes it to games, but called in late for
her 7 a.m. shift on Monday at the Howard Johnson’s nearby because
she wanted to be part of the celebration with the team.
”It’s the Final Four!” she said.
Ryan Darnell, a Richmond native, came to be part of the party,
”I was worried,” he said, when Kansas got close in the second
half. ”I was scared the Cinderella story was ending. I felt like
it couldn’t end then. It just wouldn’t be right.”