University City

49ers playoff run created lasting memories

Sorry, "Elf."

The UNC Charlotte Student Union was overrun with green-clad people Sunday, but Will Ferrell wasn't one of them.

Canceling its scheduled showing of the holiday movie so that the Student Union theater could host a viewing party of the College Cup championship match was just one example of how the Charlotte campus rallied around its beloved men's soccer team last weekend.

The 49ers were on the short end of a 1-0 loss to UNC Chapel Hill, but their run to the final in Hoover, Ala., was Charlotte's first national-championship-game appearance in any sport. They provided a weeklong energy the UNC Charlotte community - both on and off campus - hasn't seen in a long time.

Matt Murrow, 20, of Gastonia was one of the approximately 500 students who watched last Sunday's final at one of the Student Union's several viewing areas. As a member of a couple of student fan groups, Murrow, sporting a forest-green T-shirt with the words "We Are Charlotte," was more emotionally tied to the moment than most.

"It was quite unique," he said following the loss. "I'm a junior here and I've yet to experience anything like this. I rushed the court when (the men's basketball team) beat (15th-ranked) Temple two years ago and last year when we beat (seventh-ranked) Tennessee, but this was different.

"I would have liked to have been there but I couldn't because of some scheduling conflicts.

"But it was electric in here today, and I bet the experience at Hoover was even 10 times better. But this was special."

One of the students making Hoover his weekend getaway was 21-year-old Raleigh native Ryan Philmon. He was one of the 55 members of Niner Nation who got a ticket to ride a school-chartered bus to Charlotte's semifinal game against Creighton on Dec. 9.

Hoover and his roommate, 22-year-old Michael Santangelo of Asheville, camped out for tickets in front of the 49ers' ticket office the previous Tuesday night. They also reserved their tickets for the two buses the Student Activities Department sponsored for last Sunday's championship game.

Plans for the bus trips developed after the 49ers defeated Connecticut on Dec. 3 to earn their ticket to the College Cup. Nick Konawalik, director of marketing for Charlotte 49ers Athletics, says that a couple hundred students, fans and alumni welcomed the soccer team's bus back to campus around 10 that night.

From there, part of the student crowd marched to Chancellor Philip Dubois' home to plead for transportation to the College Cup. The university eventually responded by approving one bus for the semifinal game and two for the finals.

After Charlotte defeated Creighton, the university approved three additional buses for the title game.

Those fans who couldn't make it either found Norm's, a hangout inside the Student Union, or nearby off-campus establishments.

When Isaac Cowles' penalty kick goal secured the 49ers' win against Creighton, the 200 students packed inside Norm's erupted, a couple of them chanting from atop tables.

On the eve of exam week, the crowd for the game was emotionally charged. Norm's had even more people than two days before. The movie theater, certainly drawing more than "Elf" would have, was near its 200-person capacity. About 60 more watched on a screen in a commons area inside the Student Union's rotunda. The building was ready to celebrate a Charlotte victory.

Gus Burkett, associate director of Student Activities for Programs, was prepared to launch confetti cannons if the moment called for it.

But it was not to be.

As the game's final seconds ticked away, there was a smattering of applause for the 49ers' effort.

Young men cursed. Young women cried. Couples embraced.

Except for a handful of people eager to get to the room's pool tables, Norm's cleared out in a few cheerless minutes.