As the final seconds of Monday night's NCAA championship game fell away, students on the University of Utah campus continued celebrating - despite the final score.
Some may have even mistaken these fans for Kentucky faithfuls, until they greeted the final buzzer with a rambunctious cheer of "Utes, Utes, Utes." Even though the Runnin' Utes lost, most students considered team members winners and were proud of their surprising performance."It's not about winning or losing," said Kaati Lao, a University of Utah student. `It's about the players getting in there, playing their hardest and proving how good they really were, even if we didn't win."
Lao, along with hundreds of other screaming U. students, gathered at various parties along the university's fraternity row. Up and down the street, choruses of cheering, booing and chants bellowed from houses, always in unison.
Although the loss dampered her enthusiasm, Lao, like most students, didn't feel any disappointment about the team's performance.
"I have never felt more proud to call myself a Ute, even when we beat BYU," Lao said.
In one fraternity house, nearly 70 students crammed into the living room to watch the big screen TV. Meanwhile, 20 students circled a smaller television in the kitchen, and numerous others bounced between rooms.
"I have never seen school pride like this before," said Jessica Rembowski, who chose the smaller kitchen gathering so she could hear the play-by-play. "This has really brought everybody together."
Some student members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints even incorporated the game into their weekly Monday night family home evening with a pizza and root beer party.
"We'll give the team our loudest support, but we won't get too wild beyond that," said Tiffanie Ortega, who had joined 40 other members of the 14th University Ward for the evening at a member's apartment.
For members of that ward the night had extra significance because Ute player Drew Hansen attends the 14th Ward. At least among that gathering, Hansen's play always elicited the loudest cheers.
"We'll be here until the early morning, screaming and cheering," said Travis Borovatz. "We probably won't even know the game has ended."
Other ward members agreed that the team's performance was worth celebrating, although in a style different than most fraternities.
"We plan on raising some havoc," said Sid Elmer, who supplied the apartment.
But the biggest single party, by far, was reserved for more than 4,000 red-bloods who watched the game on four big screens in the Huntsman Center. The fans went wild - dancing in the aisles and slapping skin - while Utah lead during most of the game.
Late in the game, however, when it was brutally apparent Kentucky had the game in hand, a few fans left the Huntsman Center disappointed. Some even displayed their frustration. But most showed loyalty by chanting "Utah" over and over again as the game clock ran out.
Any evidence that Spring Quarter had just begun at the university was buried in a sea of hollering red. Classwork was put on the back burner for the evening. Most students watching the game seemed unconcerned about any pressing classroom assignments and more concerned about the Wildcats' pressing defense.
"I had a 7:15 class tonight, but I didn't care," said Chris Carpenter, a senior majoring in communication. "I got the syllabus and took off."
Students not at parties could be found in front of television sets virtually everywhere, including the dorms and the Olpin Union. Even most on-campus workers slipped into a back room to watch the big game on TV.
"I usually have a patron every few minutes," said Jennifer Pitt, who works at the U.'s Marriott Library. "Tonight, I've had a patron every half an hour, and none of them were U. students."
Possibly the only place of solace was the streets, where police had a strong presence. About 15 officers and a K-9 unit watched fraternity row alone - but no significant problems were reported.
"It was a good season, but I wanted to win," said U. sophomore Mehul Asher. "It would've been a perfect cap to the season after beating Arizona and North Carolina."
Parade and rally
A rally for the Runnin' Utes will be held tonight at 7 p.m. at the Huntsman Center. A parade for the team will be held Wednesday at 12:15 p.m. in downtown Salt Lake City.