That emotional roller coaster ride known as the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament was over, but some of the 19,000 fans who packed the Capital Centre last Thursday through Saturday were still giddy from the peaks they reached. Others were left with a sinking sensation in their stomachs, and still others were suspended somewhere between the heights and depths of the ride.
The three days of revelry had left students and alumni of ACC schools (Maryland, Virginia, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest and North Carolina State) crazed, dazed and amazed. North Carolina won the tournament -- and with it an automatic bid in the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament, which determines the national championship.
But, more important to the fans, the good times had rolled -- for some longer than for others -- and that was, after all, why they had come to Landover from Charlottesville, Atlanta, Chapel Hill, Durham and elsewhere. And the disappointment of losing did not necessarily mean an end to the good times.
Clemson students Carey Bates and Rodney Brown were in their seats by 10 a.m. last Thursday, an hour before the first game between Wake Forest and Clemson. They had cut classes for the remainder of the week, driven 11 hours from South Carolina and checked into a nearby hotel at 2 a.m. At the Capital Centre they found plenty to cheer about although Clemson lost, 80-71.
"It's still worth the trip," Bates said after the game. "This is the first ACC tournament I've ever been to, and I'm going to enjoy the whole thing."
His companion agreed. "There are parties all over the place, everywhere," said Brown, who estimated the cost of the trip at $300, including the $60 for tickets. "It would have been nice to win," he said, "but we'll have a good time anyway."
Many motels were bulging with people in town for the tournament. The Colony 7-Motor Inn on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway was overrun by about 350 Virginia fans who occupied 194 rooms.
Did Virginia's 85-62 loss to Maryland in the semifinals Friday ruin their weekend?
"My goodness, no!" said H. W. Carmichael, organizer of a Virginia Basketball Club excursion from Charlottesville. "All eight of our buses are full for all of our activities here. It's been a great season, so we're celebrating it."
Virginia fans with Carmichael's group paid $245 each for three nights at the Colony 7, but transportation to and from each tournament session, a buffet dinner on Thursday, a hospitality room after each game and a Saturday afternoon of pregame feasting. Game tickets could not be included in the package because they were so hard to come by.
In fact, Bev Haden of Charlottesville made the trip with the club even though she had tickets only for Thursday's games. She stood on the Capital Centre concourse, holding a handmade sign that read, "need tickets." No one was making any offers.
"If I don't get tickets, I'll just stay in my motel room and watch on TV," Haden said, tugging at the brim of a painter's cap that proclaimed, "Wahoos (Virginia's nickname) No. 1." "It's a lot of fun there, too."
Fun. There seemed to be no end to it.
The desk clerk at the Sheraton-Lanham saw the hotel overflowing with fun: "Let's just say the tournament people here are, uh, active. Very active. Not just the kids. In fact, the older groups are even -- well, more active."
In case anyone needed prodding, there were plenty of boosters around to encourage fan activity. Cheerleaders -- both official and unofficial -- added to the frenzy.
Duke cheerleader Tina Allster of Silver Spring shrugged off the fact that most Blue Devil fans were in a section far removed from courtside. "It's no problem," she said, glancing up into the stands. "We'll make sure they hear us, and I know we'll hear them. And if all goes well, we'll party when it's over."
All didn't go well for Duke, which lost to Maryland in the final seconds, 56-53. Nonetheless, the boisterous Duke crowd battled Maryland supporters to the final buzzer.
"T-E-R-P-S!" Maryland fans cheered.
"J-E-R-K-S!" Duke fans responded, pointing toward Maryland's seats.
On bad calls (to a Duke fan, any call against the Blue Devils is a bad call), the Duke section sang out rhythimically: "If you don't know the rules, make 'em up!" (Clap, clap.)
Less formal than the official cheering squad, but no less effective, were the self-appointed cheerleaders in their homemade costumes. One woman is a yellow-and-black derby rolled up her program and led Wake Forest cheers in her section. Then there was Virginia senior Greg Eierman, who came appropriately decked out in an orange-and-blue toy space helmet with a basketball net attached to the front.
"I waited in line in Charlottesville for 108 hours to get tickets for this," Eierman said, while trying to persuade gawkers to root for Virginia.
And there was Maryland fan David Simpson, wrapped in a red cape and stretching his vocal chords to incredible limits. "Lefty (Driesel) said the teams get drained out by the time the tournament is over," Simpon said. "We feel the same way. We get drained out, too. That's why we're here. We're going to help the team stomp on everyone. This is the best sporting event there is."
For some spectators the frenetic atmosphere was too much.
Natalie Reyes, a Virginia fan up from Charlottesville, was downright cranky. She was taken to the "Police Services" room where her mother, Betty Jo Reyes, changed Natalie's diapers so that the 14-month-old could start happily cheering again.
Of course, there had to be some disappointment among the losers in a tournament as prestigious as the ACC. While the fans could party away the dejection, it lingered for the players. Maryland's Taylor Baldwin sat teary-eyed in the locker room following this team's 61-60 loss to North Carolina in the finals. "We never should have lost that game," he said. "Coach should be mad at us. He won't be, but he should really let us have it."
Maryland fans filed out slowly after the tournament was over. Their roller coaster ride had peaked with the victory over Virginia, plunged with the loss to North Carolina and was poised on the hope that an NCAA bid might be offered anyway.
"I'm not really in a mood to talk," said one Maryland student as he sat in a nearly empty Capital Centre an hour after the final game. "Couldn't we have scored just two more points? Yeah, I still enjoyed it. You can't help but enjoy this tournament, even when your team losses.