The lobby scenes Saturday night were straight out of Times Square on New Year's Eve. In and outside the Marriott hotel, Georgetown students took turns pouring beer on each other. Then, they resorted to the stairs because the elevators were running so slowly.
At the Hyatt, where the media and the nation's coaches are quartered, it was worse. In the discotheque, the University of Houston players, their season over, danced up a storm.
There were lines everywhere--for the bar, for dinner, for taxis.
The city was jammed for the NCAA basketball championship weekend. The only conspicuous absentees were the Georgetown players, who were sequestered in Biloxi, Miss.
"I wish," said Todd Boylan, Georgetown '58, as he waited for a cab, "that more of these people had stayed in Biloxi. Especially these North Carolina fans."
The Rev. Timothy S. Healy was standing on the steps of the St. Louis Cathedral this morning discussing the sermon he had just delivered inside.
"I was tempted to mention that I hoped the forces of truth and justice would win out tomorrow night," he said, smiling. "In other words, a Georgetown victory."
"Well, Father, there are some of us hoping to prevent that," said one of Healy's listeners. Then North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. introduced himself to Healy, the president of Georgetown University.
"I didn't know you were here," Healy said, grasping the governor's hand in both of his. "I'm glad I played it straight in there and didn't say anything too partisan."
Like almost everyone else who packed the picturesque old church during the mass celebrated by Healy, the two men are here for the same reason: tonight's title game in the Superdome between Georgetown and the University of North Carolina.
For Healy, as for most Georgetown fans, the national championship game is a first; it has been 39 years since Georgetown played in it. But since becoming governor in 1977, Hunt has followed state teams to the title game four times. In 1977, North Carolina lost to Marquette. In 1978 Duke lost to Kentucky. Last year North Carolina lost to Indiana.
Like Carolina Coach Dean Smith, Hunt is 0-3 in national finals. "That record does put extra pressure on us, doesn't it?" he said. "I guess people are figuring it's about time Dean and I got one of these."
The cathedral was packed this morning, but not with the usual parishioners. Most were visitors wearing buttons saying "Go Hoyas," "Georgetown No. 1," "Potomac Fever."
During his sermon Healy spoke of the sacrifice the 15 Georgetown players had made to achieve their 30 victories and place in the championship game. One Georgetown student, sitting in the last row, nodded in agreement. "Staying in Biloxi is definitely a sacrifice," he said, a reference to Coach John Thompson's decision to keep the Georgetown team 90 miles from here to avoid the distractions of Bourbon Street.
During mass Healy said, "Turn to your neighbor now and say, 'Peace be with you.' "
Immediately, Len Boyer turned to his neighbor, John Dwyer, who was wearing a "Go Hoyas," button. "Peace be with you," Boyer said, grasping Dwyer's hand. "And I hope y'all whip Carolina tomorrow. I'm from Louisville but I'm pullin' for you."
Dwyer, class of '71, a former co-captain of the Hoya football team who now works for the Chicago Board of Trade, accepted the good wishes and then noticed several other fans giving him the clenched fist sign.
"This whole scene here is unbelievable," he said. "What a thing this is for the whole school."
At the Marriott, where most of the Georgetown fans are staying, many of the employes are wearing Georgetown buttons.
"It helps with tips," said bellhop Allen Bidner. "Most of these people have a drink in one hand and money in the other. They see the button, they get generous."
After the Hoyas defeated Louisville 50-46 in the semifinals Saturday, some alumni held a party in the hotel ballroom. But most who came stayed only briefly, having a drink or two and shaking a few hands. The lure of the city seemed to have something to do with it.
"How often do you come to New Orleans?" said Jane Neverson, whose husband, Bob, graduated from Georgetown's law school in 1968. "This is a cocktail party. Anyone can go to a cocktail party. Even in the rain it's still Bourbon Street out there."
The Neversons' trip here was not as smooth as the team's had been. They left Miami shortly after 9 a.m. Saturday and arrived in Atlanta to change planes at about 11 a.m. But their 12:15 flight to New Orleans was 90 minutes late leaving and they didn't get here until almost 3 p.m. Then, their cab broke down. By the time they arrived at the Superdome it was 4:30, less than 10 minutes before the Georgetown game started.
"We were exhausted and disgusted but at least we had good seats, not those seats 1,000 miles away," Jane Neverson said. "But if Georgetown had lost, it would have been an awfully long trip for nothing."
The Georgetown students have their usual seats here--behind one of the baskets. Only this isn't Capital Centre and the seats seem to be miles from courtside because of the vast open space between the court and the first row of seats.
"The NCAA figured that since the team was staying in Biloxi, they'd put the students in Biloxi too," commented one school official as the Georgetown students tried to make themselves heard Saturday.
"It's not so bad," freshman Michel Hunnywell said. "Everyone knows the students get the worst seats. We're all just having a great time anyway. I wish we could get some beer though."
The NCAA prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages inside the building, so a lot of people have been forced to tank up across the street at the Hyatt, creating a mob scene in the lobby.
"I don't think anybody will be drunk tonight ," said Al Mercer, a sophomore. "How many chances do you get to see your school play for a national championship?"