Mingling in a line that formed outside Scott Stadium’s west gate on Saturday more than four hours before it opened, generations of Virginia fans eagerly awaited a celebration for a championship that was decades in the making.
The line of orange and blue-clad fans snaked back and forth between two sets of gates, overlapping in front of a table full of national championship t-shirts and hats and commemorative posters.
Becky Belew had been waiting for this championship for 46 years. She was in line with her daughter, Bonnie Chapman, and grandson, Mason. Belew went to Virginia in the early 70s, when the school first began admitting women. Chapman graduated in 2009, and Mason, 2, pipes up with the occasional “Go ’Hoos” when his mom least expects it.
“It’s pretty awesome to share this with mom and to have my little dude with me, too,” Chapman said. “I had to wait a long time. He only had to wait two years.”
Belew and Chapman didn’t watch Monday’s national title game together because they’re a little superstitious, but they still managed to share the moment as UVa went into overtime to beat Texas Tech and claim its first national championship in program history.
“We have this jinx. If we watch the game together, we lose, so we decided we couldn’t do it,” Belew said. “We FaceTimed, though.”
Local elementary school student Jonah Brown made it through the first half, but with tip off not rolling around until 9:20 p.m., he had to go to bed by halftime. But he woke to an unexpected, but pleasant, surprise.
Still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes as he stumbled into his parents’ room, his eyes lit up as he scanned the four national championship T-shirts stretched across the bed, one for each member of the family.
“I knew they had it the whole way,” said Brown, who was in line Saturday morning with his grandmother, Brenda Purcell. “It’s awesome that they bounced back after the loss last year.”
Kim Harris, a 1987 UVa graduate, said last season’s loss to No. 16 seed UMBC did more than more than unify the Cavaliers in pursuit of redemption.
“We’ve all felt more connected to this team because of what happened last year,” said Harris, who now lives in Maryland and was in line Saturday with her parents, Charlie and Cecelia Miller. “The way they reacted and the way they’ve built throughout the season, this is such a special team.”
Harris has shared plenty of special moments with the Virginia men’s basketball team. In 1986, she was in University Hall when the Cavaliers beat No. 1 North Carolina. She’s been a regular at UVa games most of her life, and Cecelia remembers a time when they could take a family of six for the price of one ticket today.
Jenny and Sonny Payne remember those good old days. They were in attendance in 1976 when Virginia won the ACC Tournament and throughout UVa legend Ralph Sampson’s days on Grounds.
“At our age, we don’t go to the games much anymore, but we’ve been going for 30 years,” Jenny said. “We’re so proud of this team, we just don’t know what to do.”
Virginia graduate Shamika Terrell didn’t pay much attention to the basketball program until her sons, Anthony and Allen Howard, got her hooked. She was ecstatic Monday after the final horn.
“I was all over the house. I was very, very pleased for the Wahoos,” Terrell said. “My heart was so full of joy for the Charlottesville community because we needed something. It’s a miracle, and they were destined to win.”
In front of the more than 21,000 fans, which more than filled one half of Scott Stadium for Saturday’s national championship celebration, Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said the Cavaliers were destined to do more than win a title.
“They’re part of one of the greatest stories I’ve ever seen written, and it will be told over and over again,” he said. “It united a community and it certainly united our team beyond basketball.”