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Final Four-bound Ramblers to Loyola fans: ‘This group wants more’

Loyola head coach Porter Moser addresses fans at the Ramblers rally inside the Gentile Arena, on Sunday, March 25, 2018, in Chicago. The nation's hottest team in the tournament is heading to the Final Four, and Loyola's dominating performance in its latest victory is the strongest evidence yet that the Ramblers belong. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

For this team, the lights on Willis Tower glowed maroon and yellow.

For this team, fans waited in chilly March weather just to get a glimpse.

And Sunday, for this team, a raucous crowd gathered inside Gentile Arena to regale the pride of Rogers Park, which had just punched its ticket to the Final Four for the first time in 55 years. By doing so, the Loyola men’s basketball team also united Chicago.

When he stepped to the microphone inside the arena, head coach Porter Moser told everyone to get used to that proud, winning spirit.

“We’re never going back,” Moser said. “This is the way it’s going to be.”

The Ramblers easily earned a spot in San Antonio with a 78-62 win Saturday over Kansas State. After that latest victory on an unlikely journey, the streets around campus filled with cheering fans.

“Chicago needs a team like this,” said Kate Falardeau, a Lake View resident who attended the rally Sunday.

Throughout this extraordinary tournament run, Loyola team members have remarked on its past struggles to lure a solid fan base to its games. Now, fans are openly dreaming about the national trophy. And Sunday, they arrived more than an hour early just to welcome their heroes back to Gentile Arena.

The crowd swelled — and empty seats disappeared — as the team neared. Children danced in the aisles. Fans took selfies and posed for pictures with T-shirts that said, “Powered By Sr. Jean” — sharing their love for the 98-year-old nun and team chaplain.

Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, Loyola Ramblers Chaplain watches the crowd as players of the Mens Basketball give speeches during the Ramblers rally inside the Gentile Arena, on Sunday, March 25, 2018, in Chicago. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, Loyola Ramblers Chaplain watches the crowd as players of the Mens Basketball give speeches during the Ramblers rally inside the Gentile Arena, on Sunday, March 25, 2018, in Chicago. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

That love filled the arena when Sister Jean arrived just ahead of the team itself. A mob of news photographers surrounded her so completely that she was soon obscured from view. But she emerged, and the crowd roared when she offered a thumbs-up from the floor of the arena.

The players themselves made clear they are having the time of their lives and embracing the moment. Repeatedly, they thanked the fans for their support.

“We wouldn’t be here without you,” senior Donte Ingram told the crowd.

That’s the kind of spirit Moser hopes will continue after the tournament is over. He told the crowd, “You can see what spirit does to a university.”

“This is what’s right about college basketball,” Moser said.

Before he finished speaking, the coach encouraged fans to get their tickets to the upcoming game in San Antonio. Because the run isn’t over.

“I’ll tell you one thing unequivocally,” Moser said, “this group wants more.”