By Jason A. Vrtis
Arizona Daily Wildcat April 2, 1997
Frenzied fans welcome Wildcats
The exuberant crowd that gathered for yesterday's celebration at Arizona Stadium waited in anxious anticipation for their victorious UA Wildcats, but when the first car of the motorcade drove into the stadium, they could wait no longer.
As the convertible carrying university President Manuel Pacheco rounded the corner of the northwest side of the stadium, some of the crowd of about 45,000 jumped the fences at the stadium and stormed past police and security officers to get a closer look at the Wildcat players and coaches.
As the team made it to the stage, fans continued to pour down from the stands and surrounded the team.
Master of ceremonies Jonathan Norris, the public address announcer for McKale Center, tried to ask the fans to stay back, but the excited crowd continued toward the stage.
Tucson Mayor George Miller and U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe were among the crowd on the field for the festivities. President Pacheco briefly addressed the crowd before Miller was introduced and read a proclamation declaring yesterday "Wildcat Tuesday" in honor of the team's championship season.
Both Miller and Kolbe agreed the championship was an unbelievable experience for the city of Tucson and the university community.
"The championship seems to be a unifying force that brings people together the way nothing else does," Miller said.
Kolbe, wearing a bright red Arizona championship T-shirt, said he will wear the very same shirt on the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington the next time the House convenes.
"Tucson doesn't have any professional basketball or football teams, but we have the Wildcats, and here everybody supports the Wildcats," Kolbe said. "I have never seen anything that has been such a unifying factor for this community."
After Miller's proclamation, the microphone was passed to head coach Lute Olson.
Olson said fan reaction was simply "unbelievable." Hundreds of fans lined the streets of the team's motorcade route from Tucson International Airport to the stadium waving banners and wearing red Final Four shirts.
"We are so blessed to have such wonderful fans and such a great group of young people. This has been very special," Olson said. The Wildcats also showed the Sears Cup Trophy, a $30,000 Waterford crystal trophy that commemorates the NCAA men's basketball championship.
Miles Simon, named most valuable player of the Final Four after scoring 54 points in the two final games, introduced the entire squad, and a few of the players took the microphone to thank the crowd for supporting them.
Freshman point guard Mike Bibby, who chipped in with 19 points against Kentucky, and freshman Eugene Edgerson, a freshman forward who has sparked the team with his hard-nosed effort, each had the same message for their critics.
Both said that the ones who did not believe in the team can "go to hell."
Police officers from the University of Arizona and Tucson police departments had a difficult time creating enough space on the field after the ceremony to get the players out of the stadium safely.
Frenzied fans continued to rush the stage, trying to slap hands with the players as they made their way off the field. Officers recruited a few UA football players to help move the crowd back.
Junior guard Michael Dickerson was helped off the field by two police officers, and a few minutes later, officers emerged from a locker room asking for water and fluids for Dickerson. Deputy UAPD Chief Harry Hueston II said Dickerson appeared to be fine a s he and the rest of the team were escorted by university police cars out of the stadium area.
"The barrier they had for them collapsed, so we were recruited to clear a path for the team because many of them were beginning to get smashed," said Jose Portilla, a junior right tackle for the UA football squad.
Fans began packing the stadium as soon as it opened at 11 a.m. and by 12:30 p.m., only the top portion of the stadium's west side was left empty. Banners welcoming home the team and proclaiming the Wildcats' status as the number one basketball team in the country were scattered around the stadium.
Hueston said that although the fans rushed the stage, they still handled themselves well.
"The crowd wasn't bad," Hueston said. "These are nothing but class fans. We also have a class basketball program and it reflects in everything they've done this season. It is a great, great day."