NEW ORLEANS — Being the "sixth man" isn't easy.

"It's a bitter sweet relationship," said BYU alum Darren Norby (Class of 2004), who lives in New Orleans. "You love it so much when they win. When they lose, it hurts so bad. You feel so emotionally invested in every game. But you know they could lose. You just live for the days and the games when they win."

But BYU did not win Thursday night. The Cougars lost to Florida 83-74 in overtime in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament.

It as a heartbreaking end to what has been a joyous, exhilarating and sometimes breathtaking ride for Cougar fans.

"Oh, my word," said Stacy Russon, of Farmington, who decided to go to the game on Sunday. "It was so intense. Me and my sister were holding hands, just shaking. It was so exciting."

The fans rode a wave of hope before the game. They made their way through the streets of New Orleans exchanging high-fives and shouts of "Jimmer!"

Some on Bourbon Street thought the Cougar fans were a bit out of place, but most just gave a shout-out to No. 32.

For lifelong Cougar fans, Thursday was a dream come true.

"Probably my whole ward was here," said Norby, who moved to New Orleans for a dental residency. "Everyone loves Jimmer. We had the beads going; it was a party. It was sad to see them end the season here."

Norby is grateful, however, that he got the chance to see Jimmer play in person.

"The guy is incredible," Norby said. "He's got incredible range. He's a lot quicker in person. Seeing him in person was a real treat."

Norby had already purchased tickets to Saturday's game because he was certain the Cougars were going to the Elite 8.

"I just knew they were going," he said. "We take it pretty hard. We really had our hearts set on them winning."

When Jimmer hit a 3, Cougar fans tossed blue "Jimmer" Beads around the arena — often to Florida fans. The trash-talking was good-natured and the atmosphere was electric.

Norby said being a Cougar fan in SEC country can be tough.

"It's kind of like being on an Island," he said. "It was just really fun that BYU made it to the Sweet 16."

Jimmermania is so powerful, it turned Dan Hill and Tanner Bell from lukewarm alumni into sweating, screaming, "fully-invested" fans.

They got to slap hands with the legend and observe the intensity that accompanies a game on the national stage. They lived and died with every miss, every make — especially the 30-foot 3-pointer.

"This is torture," Hill blogged during the game. "Why do we do this to ourselves."

Jeff Suffolk, of Colorado, is a Michigan fan who convinced Hill and Bell they needed to be a part of Cougar history.

"My team lost, so I jumped on the BYU bandwagon," said Suffolk. "I thought it would be a lot of fun. I'm a big basketball fan."

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He said spending the day in the Big Easy wearing Fredette's number was a great experience.

"I felt like part of a big family," he said. "Cougar fans out-numbered the Gator fans 10 to 1. We were getting some funny looks. ... This has been a blast. It would have been better with a better outcome, but we had a lot of fun."

Contributing: Dan Hill

e-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com