It was 4 this morning when Tommy Massimino finally pulled out the bottle of Dom Perignon. He had carried it from here to Lexington, "just in case."

Now, "just in case" had happened and Tommy wanted to toast his father, Villanova Coach Rollie Massimino, for the extraordinary upset his team had pulled off hours earlier, beating Georgetown, 66-64, to win the national championship.

The Massiminos were alone, Rollie and Mary Jane and the five children. They uncorked the bottle and everyone looked at the oldest person in the room, 50-year-old Rollie, for a toast.

"I couldn't think of anything to say," Massimino said. "I just told them I loved them."

Eight hours later, Massimino and his miracle workers stood before thousands of chilled but thrilled Philadelphians. In the hours after the victory, Massimino had been almost calm even while his players and their fans went bananas.

But as he looked out on the crowd in Kennedy Plaza, as he thought back to the thousands who had lined the streets today while Villanova's caravan wound through its parade route, the emotion welled up.

"We did what no one thought we could do," Massimino said, his voice beginning to rise. "We won the national championship!" The scream that came out seemed to surprise Massimino, as if hearing the words from his own mouth finally made him believe it was true.

Softly, he added, "We love you all."

There was plenty of love and joy in this city today. Thirty-one years have passed since La Salle won the NCAA title with Tom Gola as its star, and today, after The Upset, the Wildcats were greeted with fervor and feeling.

When Gary McLain, the point guard whose steady play -- two turnovers in 40 minutes -- was crucial against Georgetown, saw the crowd, he was stunned.

"I never realized," he said, "that we touched so many people."

From the moment the Wildcats' plane landed this morning, there was little doubt that they had touched their city. As the plane taxied to a remote corner of the airport, the players, many of them still groggy from a night without sleep, looked out the windows and saw a huge banner proclaiming, "Welcome Home Champions."

As the plane pulled up to a corner of the Tarmac, several hundred fans stood waiting to greet the returning heroes. "Will you look at this," Massimino mumbled as he stepped off the plane.

As the team's police-escorted bus wound toward downtown, passing cars and trucks honked, their drivers waving and shouting at the players who by now were fully into the spirit of the day. Ed Pinckney, the easy-going center who outplayed Patrick Ewing and earned the most valuable player trophy, kept waving and shouting at anyone and everyone.

Construction workers on the Schuylkill Expressway had constructed a Villanova banner and they all stopped to wave as the bus rolled past. On this day, even the hard hats had gone soft.

"I really didn't think we could do it," the Rev. John Driscoll, president of Villanova, said. "Georgetown is such a great team, I just thought it would be very tough for us."

Driscoll was reminded that it was tough, that Massimino had said Sunday that his team would have to shoot 50 percent to win. Instead, it shot 78.6 percent and won by two points.

"I don't think it's even hit us how well we played," Pinckney said. "When you're out there, you're just trying to make your shots, trying to play good defense. We won't really understand how good we were until we look at the film."

As a senior, Pinckney could probably get away with not viewing this film. "No way," he said, grin widening. "This one I want to see."

The noon parade was straight out of Rocky III. As the caravan passed people on the sidewalks, hundreds streamed into the street, chasing the flatbed truck carrying the team and coaches. The players stood on the sideboards and waved and hollered while leaning over the plexiglass set up to keep them warm.

The NCAA championship trophy, which had begun the day in the arms of Massimino's youngest son, Andy, was passed from player to player. By the time the parade had ended at Kennedy Plaza, there was no doubt who would carry it to the platform: Pinckney.

Pinckney played both Final Four games sick. In both games, he became ill during the second half. But nothing stopped him.

And so, when master of ceremonies Bob Vetrone introduced the last Villanova player on his list, he said simply, "Ladies and gentlemen, here is the NCAA championship trophy . . . and the kid who's been carrying it around with him."

"No one in the country believed we could do it," Pinckney said, "except for all of us and all of you."

Some in the crowd, like Joe Chase, a former Villanova sports information director who now works in Mayor Wilson Goode's office, still couldn't believe what they were seeing. "I waited 32 years for this," he said. "I never, ever believed this could happen to Villanova. Never."

Chase was like most others. One month ago, when the Wildcats ended the regular season with an embarrassing 85-62 loss to Pittsburgh, Massimino wasn't even sure his team would get into the NCAA tournament.

That week, while getting ready for the Big East tournament, Massimino called Harold Jensen into his office. Jensen was shooting 38 percent for the season, averaging 2.6 points per game. He was down on himself.

"I decided in the middle of the night it was time for a talk with him," Massimino said. "I called him in and told him he was a great young man at a great school making excellent grades. I told him to quit worrying and pressing so much. He said, 'Coach, I'm letting you down.' I told him there was no way that was true. I told him just to go out and play and have fun."

Massimino, ever the father figure, hugged Jensen at the end of the talk and since then, Jensen has been the extra piece the Wildcats have needed. Monday, he not only scored 14 points, but hit the jump shot with 2:36 left that put Villanova ahead for good.

Along with the three seniors, Pinckney, McLain and smooth-shooting Dwayne McClain and junior defensive specialist Harold Pressley, Jensen was part of an iron five that played almost the entire Final Four without rest.

Everyone, including the Hoyas, thought the Wildcats would tire or wilt in the spotlight. Instead, they kept getting stronger, driven by the belief instilled by their coach that they were right, the rest of the world wrong.

That is why Massimino looked fresh this afternoon after 30 minutes of sleep. That is why his players stood and signed autograph after autograph, no one eager to let go of this moment, of this day.

As he walked off the platform this afternoon, Massimino gazed at his players, his eyes full of pride.

"I gotta get on these guys," he said in a mock growl. "We can't get cocky now. We have to start getting ready for next year. I think we'll practice at 2 o'clock after we get back to school."

With that, Massimino threw his head back and laughed joyously. All around him a city was celebrating.