Tar Heel faithful celebrate championship on Chapel Hill streets

ByDavid Hale ESPN logo
Tuesday, April 4, 2017

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Before the final seconds had ticked off the clock in Arizona, the party back home was underway. Kennedy Meeks' steal with nine seconds left sent the revelers into the streets, and by the time the final score -- a 71-65 North Carolina victory -- was official, the intersection of Franklin and Columbia Streets was mobbed with fans celebrating the Tar Heels' sixth NCAA tournament championship.

A hefty police presence was obvious, but security largely stood passively along the sidewalks, soaking in the revelry as students took turns leaping a small bonfire, climbing trees and street signs and igniting fireworks in celebration.

"It's a great experience," said D.J. Ford, a freshman at UNC and member of the Tar Heels' football team. "It's my first time experiencing this, except for when we beat Duke, and it's more people than I've ever seen here."

Ford watched the game in his dorm room with friends, then joined the thousands who flooded Franklin Street after the Tar Heels finished their win over Gonzaga. The scent of extinguished fireworks wafted through the air, and a sea of fans passed road barricades and beach balls back and forth.

Mike Lewis, a 1975 UNC graduate, danced for friends and held his cell phone high in the air to capture the scene. He has been on Franklin Street for his share of big wins and a few tough losses, including last year's championship game defeat to Villanova. This one, he said, was "one of the best."

A dozen yards away, Lise Noble and her family soaked up the moment. Her son, Holden, is 11, and he barely remembers UNC's last title in 2009, so they shuffled out of their home near campus and meandered down Franklin Street to get a taste of the celebration.

"Y'all are good parents," one fan yelled at Lise and her husband, Patrick, as they escorted their three kids through the madness.

Dozens of fans lined up in front of the North Carolina bookstore at 1 a.m., hoping to be among the first to grab championship gear, while others packed nearby bars and meandered the streets before security began to usher fans home.

"I was never worried," Lewis joked. "I've been through this before, and I could do it again."