Now that just about everything has been said and done about the University of Utah basketball team's climb to the No. 2 spot in the nation, here's the one thing that will always remain a constant: the fans, the fans, the fans.
At least that seemed to be the case Tuesday when a throng of adoring fans gathered at the Salt Lake International Airport and at the Huntsman Center to welcome their beloved team home.It didn't matter that the team lost the national championship in the last five minutes of the final game. And it didn't matter that the team's future remains questionable, with head coach Rick Majerus' possibly leaving to coach elsewhere and junior point guard Andre Miller perhaps opting for the NBA, among other things.
Tuesday night it was good to be a Ute and to be around thousands of others who felt it necessary to cheer each other almost deaf. It was a time to, as Ute alumnus Brett Smiley said it best, look beyond all the commentary and analysis and celebrate the great things the team accomplished this year.
"I don't think anyone knows how hard it is to get to the sweet 16, let alone the final four," Smiley said. "They did a superb job."
Yes, pride was in the air.
Even before the team entered the stage at the Huntsman Center, the pep band was driving the crowd into a frenzy with its furious rendition of "Sing, Sing, Sing" and other blaring tunes.
Once the players appeared, it was hard for the enthusiastic fans to stay in their seats. No less than about a dozen standing ovations were given, the longest for Miller and senior center Michael Doleac.
"These have been a tough couple of days," said Doleac of his last days as a Ute basketball player. "Having you guys support us and welcome us home means a lot."
Sophomore forward Alex Jensen also thanked the devoted fans: "Thanks for supporting us so much in the season. What's made it so special is the support we've received no matter where we've gone, and it's been greatly appreciated."
"It's been a tough three weeks for us, and you guys have been behind us every day and that's helped us a lot," said sophomore forward Hanno Mottola.
This was also the time to bid goodbye for senior guard Drew Hansen: "It's really tough to leave, especially when you know you won't play competitive basketball again," he said.
Despite a unanimous crowd pleading with Miller for "one more year, one more year," he did not make any specific commitments.
Missing from the rally was Majerus, who remained in San Antonio to "regroup and relax," said U. athletic director Chris Hill.
Gov. Mike Leavitt also made an appearance to declare "Runnin' Ute Day."
"You have made history that we will never forget," Leavitt told the team. "Utah loves you, America loves you."
Well, yes. But not as much as the fans.