At first glance, everything seems normal on Franklin Street. Students are on their way to class, high schoolers are in town for a field trip, and people are running a few errands during their lunch break.
But at a closer glance, something just isn't right. Maybe it's that the signs for Franklin Street and South Columbia have been torn down. Maybe it's the abnormally large crowds pouring in and out of Chapel Hill Sportswear.
Or maybe it's the fact that the majority of people on Franklin Street are wearing brand new National Championship T-shirts.
It was two days ago that the Tar Heels won the NCAA Men's Basketball National Title, but basketball is never old news in Chapel Hill.
Silences between fans are filled with the phrase, "I can't believe this really happened."
Tar Heels of all ages stand on Franklin Street's sidewalk just looking at the road. Monday night, they couldn't see the pavement—they could only see the throng of fans cheering, hugging, and jumping over bonfires.
And while basketball season is officially over and a new banner will hang from the ceiling of the Smith Center, it is too soon for everything to return to normal.
Students talk to each other about rushing Franklin Street. Professors talk to their classes about Carolina's victory.
A line of community members pours out the front door of The Daily Tar Heel's office, with everyone waiting to purchase a copy (or three) of UNC's student paper. And the checkout woman at Harris Teeter wants to know how much I got my championship T-shirt for.
There is a new sense of community in Chapel Hill, and it is built on basketball.
Growing up, my dad taught me to hate Duke, but I never bothered to follow college basketball.
That all changed last August when I began my freshman year at Carolina.
Basketball took over my life.
I participated in Carolina Fever, a program that allowed me to attend other UNC sporting events in order to earn basketball tickets. I made new friendships based on basketball. I learned to recognize every member of the team when I saw them on campus.
I was hooked: I wanted to win. I wanted to win it all.
Since losing to Kansas in the Final Four last season, all of my focus has been on the 2009 National Championship. Me and thousands of other Carolina fans.
And on Monday night, it actually happened. UNC won. UNC won a National Title.
The Smith Center erupted. Fans stormed the court before turning around and running over a mile to storm Franklin Street.
It was chaos and it was bliss. Fires were burning and people were pushing. People were hugging and jumping for joy.
It was emotional, to say the least.
About 50,000 people rushed Franklin Street Monday night. And while I'm happy I got to be one of them, I am most grateful that I was one of about 15,000 undergraduates who found themselves at Carolina for this championship.
Years from now, future generations of Tar Heels will stare at the 2009 championship banner hanging from the Smith Center rafters, thinking about how badly they want to win a championship.
Others will see that banner and remember what it was like to be in Chapel Hill when UNC won.
I've joked with my friends that Monday night was and will be the best night of my life—that the climax of my life came two days after my 20th birthday and it can only go down from here.
I know that's not true.
But as far as my life as a Tar Heel fan goes, it will be hard to top the feeling of winning this championship, the feeling of rushing Franklin Street, the feeling of the heat coming off a bonfire while surrounded by cheering fans.
Life doesn't stop with a National Championship victory, but Tar Heel fans will do their best to make time stand still for as long as possible. It's too early to move on.
For Carolina fans, it's hard to imagine what could seem as exciting as this victory.
Personally, I have to wonder what could top my first national championship.
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