Atlanta Hosts Lively 'Final Four' Crowds

On the basketball court at the Georgia Dome, Ohio State beat Georgetown and defending champion Florida overcame UCLA. But some of the best action at the NCAA men's Final Four in Atlanta was taking place outside the arena.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR NEWS. I'm Liane Hansen.

The Final Four is now down to two. The Ohio State Buckeyes beat the Georgetown Hoyas, and the Florida Gators defeated UCLA last night in the NCAA's men's basketball tournament. Florida and Ohio play for the championship tomorrow. Atlanta hosted the men's Final Four this year, and as Joshua Levs reports, fans pretty much took over the city last night.

JOSHUA LEVS: While more than 50,000 college hoops fans packed into the Georgia Dome, tens of thousands more were filling the bars and restaurants downtown or sprawling out at Centennial Olympic Park, watching the game on the big screen. That's where a bunch of Ohio State fans where when Ohio beat Georgetown in the first game yesterday. Tyler Ruff(ph) and Michael Lee(ph) were among a group of Ohio students and recent alumni, making their presence known.

Unidentified Man #1: (Unintelligible)

Unidentified Man #2: You can't be a Buckeye fan without coming down to see(ph) them. It's in the blood. We all grew up in Ohio. We went to - go to Ohio State. You got to come down here.

LEVS: They gave props to Georgetown for putting up a good fight, but they also didn't hold back on celebrating.

Unidentified Man #3: O-H.

Unidentified Group: I-O.

Unidentified Man #3: O-H.

Unidentified Group: I-O.

Unidentified Man #3: O-H.

Unidentified Group: I-O.

Unidentified Man #3: Whoo.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #3: National championship.

LEVS: It is called March Madness - and on some, it takes a toll.

Mr. ANTHONY HILL (Ohio State Buckeyes Fan): I sound like a cartoon character right now.

LEVS: That's Anthony Hill, an Ohio fan whose voice was normal Saturday morning before he did a lot of this.

Mr. HILL: Whoa. All right, that's a charge. (Unintelligible).

Unidentified Man #3: Get them out. Time out. (Unintelligible). Let me hear it again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LEVS: A lot of Georgetown fans were more sanguine but still having fun. Shawn Herdman(ph) was among some alumni in a bar around the corner.

Mr. SHAWN HERDMAN(ph) (Georgetown Alumnus): It's definitely disappointing. A great season, but, you know, I wish we had gotten the win. I mean, I think their guards played a lot better than our guards. It seemed like maybe the calls weren't going our way. Good game.

LEVS: So you're all right?

Mr. HERDMAN: I'm all right.

LEVS: Even in the craziness of downtown Atlanta last night, with some streets closed to traffic, police keeping order, and crowds moving in all directions, one sight stuck out: the reams of Florida Gator fans dressed in bright orange.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Man #5: We're didn't play our best game, and we won by, like, 10 points so...

Unidentified Man #6: We didn't expect to win every time we're out on that court.

LEVS: A certain confidence - or is it cockiness - came from beating UCLA for a second straight year. And these fans, like Chris Schnell(ph), are promising a second straight title.

Mr. CHRIS SCHNELL(ph) (Florida Gators Fan): I see Florida going all the way. I just can't see a team beating them.

LEVS: Rick McNiven(ph), an alumnus of UCLA, conceded it was a lopsided contest.

Mr. RICK McNIVEN(ph) (UCLA Alumnus): Thought we had put up a better fight.

LEVS: Thought this was the year?

Mr. McNIVEN: Thought this was the year, absolutely.

LEVS: Alumni and students are far from the only ones attracted to the excitement of the Final Four. People with no affiliation to any of the schools traveled here from all over the country, especially from Florida. Ann Sarah(ph) of Saint Augustine has supported the Gators for 25 years. She came equipped with a fan's weapon of sort.

Ms. ANN SARAH(ph) (Florida Gators Fan): I'm holding a five-foot Gator. Actually, he's a stuffed gator, but he looks real. He scares people. He's fine. We have a good time when we're at the game.

LEVS: Sarah says she expects Florida to win Monday night. For a lot of folks in town, that game means high drama, not just because the championship itself is so important, but because the two schools have a growing rivalry. Earlier this year, Florida trounced Ohio in the football championship. Tim Short(ph) of Ohio summarized his school's hopes in a single word.

Mr. TIM SHORT (Ohio State University Student): Redemption. That's all I'm saying.

LEVS: Authorities in Atlanta are telling residents to prepare for a couple more days of the Madness. For NPR News, I'm Joshua Levs in Atlanta.

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