Just before Virginia earned its first trip to the NCAA final four by defeating Brigham Young Saturday, Bob Webb and three friends drove over to University Hall and formed a line near the ticket window.
Webb had waited almost eight years for this moment, ever since he had enrolled at Virginia as an undergraduate. Now a fourth-year law student, he wasn't about to miss a chance to grab a little bit of history, even if it meant camping out 40 hours and giving up the final days of spring break.
"We drove in Friday just in case they won Saturday," said Webb. "This is the first time we've ever had something like this happen to the university. People just can't stop talking about it."
But Webb wound up doing much more Monday than just purchasing a seat to the Spectrum in Philadelphia. He also became an integral figure in what may well be remembered as the most orderly ticket dispersal in NCAA history.
There was no mob scene in front of UHall when the windows opened. No pushing or shoving, no fights, even though fewer than 400 tickets were available for a student body of 16,000.
Webb and his friends had eliminated such nonsense by self-policing the gathering. As groups of four joined the line, they signed a sheet, agreeing that half the group must remain at all times. Otherwise they'd lose their place. And just to make sure, Webb took periodic roll calls.
Only once this glorious season have things gotten out of hand in normally laid-back Charlottesville. When the Cavaliers rallied to beat North Carolina in overtime, the players were greeted by a wildly cheering mob at the airport. Officials feared they couldn't keep the place secure.
When the team returned home from Atlanta Sunday, the crowd was waiting not at the airport but at University Hall.The players were bused to the arena, and then 4,000 fans trooped inside to hear short speeches. They applauded gleefully, the athletes left, and everyone went home happy.
This is proper Charlottesville, and you'd never know by driving through town that anything unusual was happening.
"But it is different," said Joe Mark, field secretary of the Virginia Student Aid Foundation. "Do you know how long we've been waiting for this?"
If nothing else, Mr. Jefferson's university is built on tradition. The honor system, the Lawn, the Rotunda -- all are the foundation of a value code passed from generation to generation.
Something else also has been passed along losing teams.
Except for a few national lacrosse titles; Virginia has been miserable in football and basketball for years. The football team has had only two winning seasons in the last 27. The basketball team once went 16 years without going over .500 before Barry Parkhill showed up in the early 1970s to become the Cavaliers' first legitimate all-America.
Now, thanks in very large part to Ralph Sampson, that's all changed. Of the final four teams, Virginia is the only one that has been ranked No. 1 this season. And now, the Cavaliers are two victories away from the national championship.
"There is total disbelief around here," said Webb. "We knew we were good, but for Virginia to go to the final four, it's stunning. We have to keep pinching ourselves. Everything else is secondary this week. It's going to be hard for anyone in Charlottesville to wait until Saturday."
The hottest-selling bumper sticker at Mincer's Pipe Shop, located in the midst of The Corner, an assortment of shops near The Rotunda and The Lawn, would never make it on Madison Avenue.
"How 'Bout Them 'Hoos" is the catchy winner. It costs 75 cents and Mincer's can't keep them in stock.
The same goes for the top-selling T-shirt, a baseball-style pullover proclaiming that Virginia is No. 1. Mincer's has sold almost 300, despite the $8.95 price tag. No. 1 declas, reduced when the Cavaliers lost three games a few weeks ago, now are available again, at full price.
For the real sentimentalist, you still can buy a poster celebrating Virginia's NIT victory last year. Or a button (for $1.95) showing a team picture, or a bumper sticker that proclaims simply, "RALPH!"
Away from the campus, at the Downtown Athletic Store, Cavalier basketball novelty items are moving briskly. But the shop is much more selective in its stock.
"When we won the ACC (in 1976) we got in everything we could think of, things like mugs and key rings and shirts," said Bob Deane. "It took us two years to get rid of it all."
Dean says that he has received a lot of out-of-town requests for items "both as a joke and as serious gifts. We've sent stuff to Chicago and Indiana and they've gone to North Carolina fans. We had about 80 'No. 1' shirts and we sold out of those in two days.
"People just want to talk about the team and have something to wear, anything that has blue and orange, doesn't matter what. Of course, we get a lot of interested people in here and they'll talk strategy and pairings. Sandy DeKay, who also works in the store said she saw a man in church Sunday with a blue shirt (the Virginia colors). The townies identify with the team as much as the students do. There are a lot of longtime supporters in town who can't believe the school finally has a winner."
The last time the University of Virginia held a basketball rally was in 1972, prior to a game against North Carolina. The Cavaliers were 12-0 entering that contest. They lost.
So far, no plans have surfaced for a rally this week. It's midterm exam time, which cuts into the celebrating. Besides, with everyone on break last week, it is taking a while for students to rev up their spirits.
Normally, the Student Aid Foundation, the scholarship support arm of the athletic department, begins fundraising soon after the first of the year. Not this season. The foundation is waiting until after Philadelphia, until after the impact of Virginia's season sinks in.
"We have a goal of 1.5 million in donations," said Joe Mark. "It was not that many years ago when we were getting only $300,000 or so. But with the success of basketball and with the winning football season the year before last, things have picked up.
"We've got over 4,000 members, and we want to broaden our interest even more. You can't believe the impact this season has had on the foundation, on the alumni and on the school itself. It goes far beyond basketball. The publicity has been tremendous."
"If the football team could ever win consistently, Virginia officials believe donations would pour in. Virginia is a school with moneyed alumni and moneyed students. On how many other campuses would you see a coed driving a Mercedes --burnt orange, of course -- with the initials U of Va. branded into the rear end?
Virginia players may not have sought adulation, but they've received it anyway this season from alumni, students, townies. But even they have noticed that this week has been different.
"I think," said guard Jeff Jones with a sly smile, "the students are busier celebrating their tans (from spring break) than anything else."
But he added quickly: "They've been great, really. Everyone wants to wish you good luck, but they really try not to interfere. If we've had any problems, it's been from, well, the older set. They have certain expectations and when we haven't lived up to them, they haven't been able to understand why."
The Cavaliers are trying to follow Coach Terry Holland's directions and keep their lives as normal as possible. There are no changes in the practice routine, and the vast majority of interview requests were handled through a mass press conference today.
Still, the players realize how much this week means to both the school and the town.
They remember that one loyal fan, for example, bakes birthday cakes for them (Jeff Lamp likes streusel, Lee Raker prefers German Chocolate and Sampson nibbles at chocolate) but doesn't want her name used less it distract from the attention being paid to the athletics.
Another fan, Jack Rinehart, took the Cavaliers' loss to Maryland in the ACC tournament so hard he tossed away a 25-year-old good luck Virginia tie, which he now wishes he had back for Philadelphia.
Jim LaFleur, a teacher in the School of Education, took his whole family to Atlanta last week. He says he had a number of job offers after graduate school, but chose Charlottesville because of basketball and the ACC. He admitted the trip to Atlanta might mean he couldn't furnish an empty room at his residence. But seeing the games, he said, was more important.
Almost lost in all the excitement of the NCAA tournament is the fact the players still are students. It was a point Sampson made today.
Asked if he was spending his waking hours thinking about North Carolina and the importance of the final four, Sampson slowly shook his head.
"No," he said. "Right now I'm thinking just about one thing. Getting caught up in school. Maybe Thursday I'll start thinking about Philadelphia."