They shocked the nation and the college basketball world on Saturday, and the University of Northern Iowa Panthers had a heroes' welcome because of it when they returned home on Sunday.
The ninth-seeded Panthers, who beat the NCAA Tournament's overall top team, the University of Kansas, in thrilling fashion on Saturday, flew back to their home state on Sunday. A crowd of more than 50 fans—the Chicago Tribune put the number at 70—stood on the tarmac awaiting the Panthers' plane, even after several delays pushed the flight's arrival time later and later. The players and coaching staff were greeted with cheers. And they signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans as they waited for their luggage, the Des Moines Register reports. It was a well-deserved party for one of this year's biggest Cinderella stories in the NCAA Tournament.
"We thought it might be a little too late or a little too cold," Ali Farokhmanesh, the hero for Northern Iowa who hit two critical shots this past weekend to send the Panthers to the third round of the NCAA Tournament, tells the Register. "This is awesome."
Many have already deemed Northern Iowa's win against Kansas one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history. For the dream run to continue, the Panthers have to beat Michigan State University on Friday. But win or not, the Panthers are playing with house money at this point. That so many fans came to the Waterloo, Iowa, airport at 1:30 on Sunday morning to welcome UNI home shows just that.