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Fandemonium

Wisconsin faithul greet Badgers upon return

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Posted: Sunday March 26, 2000 07:20 PM

  Wisconsin's Mike Kelley is surrounded by a sea of Badgers fans Sunday. AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- There must have been a lot of Badgers basketball fans with sore throats Sunday, after all the screaming they did when Wisconsin clinched its first trip to the Final Four in 59 years.

"Do you smmeeeellll what the Badgers are cookin'?" hollered Mark Vershaw to a frenzied crowd of 20,000 who left their homes and barstools early Sunday morning to welcome their team home from Albuquerque, N.M.

"Wasssup!! ... The Final Four, baby! Let's go party on State Street," Mike Kelley instructed before rushing into the crowd of worshiping Wisconsin fans.

The fervor had lulled to a constant state of excitement by Sunday afternoon, when close to a thousand students and season ticket holders showed up at the Kohl Center to apply for the Final Four ticket lottery.

Jim Schwartz has had season tickets for 21 years and was one of the "faithful 5,000" who didn't give up on the team during their losing streaks.

"This is an amazing event for us," said Schwartz, 64, of Madison, who was waiting in line for ticket applications. "If they had won one game in the tournament that would have made the season. This is unbelievable."

Terry Schar has already been to a Wisconsin Final Four game -- in 1941.

"This is much bigger than then. You look at the grainy movie film of the '41 game with the guys in their short pants. Back then, 50 points was a huge score," Schar said. "It's like everything else in society now: everything moves a lot faster."

Schar, of Madison, graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1952 and has been a lifelong Badgers fan, but this time he was opting for the women's NIT tournament.

"There are going to be 5,000 to 10,000 people who want to go to Indianapolis," he said. "I can say I saw the game in '41, and these people can say they saw the one in 2000."

Minutes after Wisconsin beat Purdue, students and fans streamed out of bars and dorms onto Madison's State Street, where they popped champagne bottles, jumped out of trees and stopped just short of pinching themselves with disbelief.

"I've been following the Final Four since I was a little kid, and then to come to Wisconsin my freshman year and have the Badgers go to the Final Four? It's unbelievable. I'm as giddy as a schoolgirl," said Gregg Sparks, 18.

Kevin Phelps, manager of the University Book Store, said he ordered a couple thousand T-shirts last week and had to keep running to the manufacturer to get more.

"As soon as our stores opened today, there were people waiting at the doors to get in and buy the stuff," Phelps said Sunday.

At the postgame, early-morning rally, one couple -- still wearing a tuxedo and wedding dress -- ditched wedding guests to join the celebration.

"We heard about this from all the Badgers fans and couldn't even start our party until the game was over," said Glen Hansen, 33.

"We're going back to join the afterparty, but we had to make a quick stop first," said Hansen's new wife, Kathy, a UW-Madison alumnus.


 
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