Kentucky basketball fans flocked to Rupp Arena on Tuesday afternoon to cheer the eighth national championship title of their beloved Wildcats.
Among the first arrivals was Margie Spaulding of Lexington, who had four tickets. She used one for herself and gave the others to some folks who couldn't claim tickets in time.
The team arrived at Rupp by bus just before 4 p.m., after landing at Blue Grass Airport, and fans roared as each player was introduced by name.
Carl Hall, Rupp's director of arena management, said 20,500 free tickets were issued, and most were gone before noon. Hundreds of people lined up for tickets before 8 a.m.
Spaulding said she'd been to every UK national championship celebration since 1978.
"I was raised on basketball," she said. Spaulding said she has savored every UK championship, but she considered this one special.
"I wanted it for Darius (Miller)," she said of the senior, considered the sixth starter on this year's team.
"He's a great Kentucky kid and I wanted him to be able to go out with a championship."
Craig E. Bowman, 54, drove from Ohio to attend.
"These guys play for the state. They don't play for one individual. Everywhere you go, there are Kentucky fans," said Bowman, an employee of Proctor & Gamble in Cincinnati. "It's like us winning a war. It's that important to the state of Kentucky."
Tyler Martin, 43, of Independence brought his three children: Ashley, 14; Hunter, 11; and Ethan, 10.
"It's a passing on of a tradition. They weren't around when we won it the last time," Martin said. "I want them to be a part of winning a championship."
Hunter Martin said this about his favorite player: "Anthony Davis is the only person I know that inspires other people to grow unibrows."
Brittney Posey, 26, of Louisville said she especially appreciated this title because she was too young to do so at the time of the 1998 championship.
"I just love Kentucky so much," Posey said. "I'm so glad we got a win with Coach Cal."
Fans started lining up at the airport about noon, hoping for a glimpse of the team plane returning from New Orleans. Three hours passed before the plane arrived at the ramp, emerging from a triumphal arch of water issuing from two fire trucks, but no one seemed to mind the wait.
Jeannie Osborne and Edith Bigley of London brought their children, calling it "an educational trip," and were among the first at the airport.
Bigley said she'd been wearing a heart monitor and had asked her doctor if she could remove it for Monday night's game. He said no. But Bigley said she's certain the readout will show how excited she got, both during the game and when the team arrived home.
Many fans said they'd never forget the emotional celebration at Rupp.
"I'll remember it the rest of my life," said James Fields, who came all the way from Pike County.
"I feel blessed that the Lord let me live another year so I could see UK bring home another championship," said Nancy Roberts of Lexington.
Dennis Rogers, a Committee of 101 member and an usher at Rupp, might have summed it up best. He surveyed all the seats filled with fans and marveled.
"It's packed, just like a real game," Rogers said. "Only Kentucky could do this."
Cheryl Truman: (859) 231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman. Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255. Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.