April 08, 2016
Thousands of Villanova fans lined Market Street and gathered at Dilworth Park in Center City for a parade and rally on Friday afternoon to celebrate the Wildcats' NCAA Basketball Championship.
In the shadow of City Hall, head coach Jay Wright addressed a sea of blue-and-white clad fans.
"Everyone in Philadelphia, we want to thank you for embracing us," Wright told the crowd. "We take great pride in representing everyone in Philadelphia. We take great pride in representing Philadelphia basketball. And today everyone in Philadelphia is part of Nova Nation."
Wright thanked the city “for welcoming us in from the suburbs."
He also promised the city would soon be parading with its professional teams.
Members from each of Villanova University's Final Four basketball teams, including its 1985 championship team, participated in the parade, with Wright calling the 2016 championship "a culmination of all the great players who have come to Villanova."
Wright was one of several speakers who addressed the crowd, including Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, an alumnus of Villanova Law School, and several school officials.
Wildcats players rode on the top of an open-air, double-decker bus, as ticker tape fell from above the parade. Players took turns holding up the championship trophy as the buses trailed behind marching bands on their way to Dilworth Plaza for the rally.
As the buses rolled through intersections, fans roared and held up iPhones to record the moment. Wright, wearing a Navy blue Nova jacket, continuously flashed the victory sign with both hands. The crowd cheered with approval.
"It was pretty great to see this much pride for Villanova," said Mark O'Halloran, 27, a 2010 graduate who drove to Philadelphia from Baltimore.
As they paraded east on Market Street, the Wildcats passed by dozens of Phillies lamppost banners marking Opening Day. The Phillies, of course, were the last major sports team in town to get a parade – in 2008.
Celebrants began assembling at Dilworth Park hours before the parade was slated to begin despite a breezy chill in the air. The parade route along Market Street took longer to fill up, but by the time the Wildcats arrived, fans packed the sidewalks.
Along the parade route vendors hawked pennants, shirts, hats and newspapers to fans still gleaming with pride. Flags and signs were being waved throughout the crowd.
"It felt like the Phillies parade in 2008," said Jackie Keifer, 21, of Aldan, Delaware County.
On the podium at Dilworth Park, Villanova Athletic Director Mark Jackson praised Wright.
"He's the best coach across any sport, across any level, anywhere in the world," Jackson said.
The Rev. Peter Donohue, Villanova's president, said he will remember more than the Wildcats winning an NCAA title.
"Aside from the great moments on the court, I will always remember a group of great young men and coaches who were a part of the 2016 National Championship team," he told the crowd.
Introducing his players, Wright called Kris Jenkins "the man who hit the biggest shot in the history of college basketball."
Jenkins told the crowd: "Whenever you are teaching your kids to shoot, just tell them to one-two step and let if fly."
Senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono, a Bucks County native, then joked about not getting a "one-more year!" chant from the crowd like his teammates Phil Booth, a sophomore, and Jenkins, a junior. He then thanked the fans.
"We are going out as National Champions," Archidiacono said, "and we thank you for everything."
The ceremony ended with the Villanova players throwing more t-shirts to the crowd before a replay of Jenkins' winning shot was played on a large screen. The team and crowd threw streamers in the air as the winning shot was made.
Emily Forth, 18, a Villanova freshman from Pittsford, New York, said the campus has been particularly busy since that shot, with alumni coming to purchase championship merchandise from the campus book store and sharing stories of 1985.
Across campus, toilet paper lingers in trees, remnants of Monday night's celebration, she said.
"People are still in the moment," Forth said.
Some 4,800 Villanova students watched the championship game from inside the Pavilion on campus on Monday night, a gathering freshman Elizabeth Leonard, 18, of Marlborough, Massachusetts, said is indicative of the Villanova community.
Jenkins' shot sent the gym into a frenzy.
"People you hadn't met before hugged you and gave you high fives," Leonard said.
Vince Deflavia, 43, of Collegeville, was in Hawaii when Kris Jenkins drained the game-winning, three-point shot. But the Nova alum arrived back in Philadelphia Friday morning, in time for the parade.
"It's just phenomenal," said Deflavia, who graduated in 1995. "It's so unreal. I still don't believe it."
Deflavia described being "a nervous wreck" as North Carolina mounted a late comeback, tying the game on a clutch three-pointer of its own. But moments later the Wildcats were champs.
"We saw it drop, and we went nuts," he said. "We couldn't believe it."
Zach Hogan agreed: it was crazy shot.
"I think the No. 1 thing everybody is saying is 'I've watched Kris Jenkins' shot like 30 times since that day,'" Hogan said. "It never gets old. ... It's unbelievable. We're never going to get over it."
Hogan, a 20-year-old sophomore from Easton, Northampton County, watched the title game at the Pavilion on Monday night. He came away with a Jay Wright cardboard cutout.
"I'm going to try to get him to sign it when everything calms down and maybe get a picture with the real one," he said.
Jennifer Beylickjian, 42, of Hunterdon County, New Jersey, a 1999 Nova graduate, came out to the parade with her husband, Bob, and son, William.
"It's nice to be among friends – 50,000 friends," she said.
She said she watched the title game at home, but couldn't endure the final 4.5 seconds. Instead, she said she prayed from a closet.
"They're vindicated," she said. "Jay Wright is a class act. I'm so happy for all of them."
Her husband, Bob, a Maryland fan, called it the greatest game he's seen.
"You couldn't ask for a better shot at a more crucial time," he said.
The parade caps nearly a week of jubilation that began the moment Jenkins' buzzer-beater handed Villanova its second national basketball title.
Within minutes of the dramatic finish, thousands of Villanova students watching the game inside the Pavilion rushed onto to Lancaster Avenue, where they partied into the night. The university canceled classes Tuesday as the campus welcomed the Wildcats back to the Main Line with a celebration at the Villanova Stadium.
The school again canceled classes Friday so its students could flock to Center City. At some point, studies will commence again, but students remained in a delirious state as the Wildcats paraded through Philly.