The night the lights went out on Hillsborough Street

The lights finally turned out on NC State’s wild and giddy party Saturday, and as the thousands of fans shuffled away from Hillsborough Street, climbing down from trees and off boyfriends’ shoulders, they raised a last, loving Wolfie.

The Wolfpack’s loss unfolded on a screen two stories high outside Mitch’s Tavern, where thousands roared at riot level for every three-pointer — not often enough, in the end.

But the fan base that waited four decades for this level of thrills walked away with red sweatshirts, red sombreros and huge red hearts. In the end, Raleigh built more spirit than a tent revival and sold more beer than Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras, and a generation of fans can tell their own updated stories of the Cardiac Pack.

“We couldn’t pull through,” said Breanna Aiken, a 2022 graduate. “But we didn’t give up.”

There were long, slow hugs, over the sound empty cans getting kicked down the street in disappointment.

But the whoops that fans developed over the last few weeks rang out even as the crowds left their championship hopes and their trash behind.

”This was incredible,” said Amanda Woolard, a 2007 graduate wearing a #1STATEFAN license plate in a string.

“As somebody who was born in ‘85, and only ever heard about the magic of ‘83, this has given me more of a glimpse of what that must have been like.”

The Wolfpack’s Cinderella run started with a last-second, desperation three-point shot in the ACC Tournament, sparking a run that carried them through five straight wins in five straight days — including arch-rivals UNC and Duke.

Their rallying cry “Why Not Us?” enlivened a fan base that suffered through decades of disappointment, reminding fans of their underdog 1983 championship team under late Coach Jim Valvano.

Their run to the Final Four made made them crowd favorites, and it turned star forward DJ Burns into an overnight celebrity. His portrait with sunglasses soon appeared on the Free Expression tunnel on NC State’s campus.

Last Sunday, after defeating Duke again to reach the Final Four, fans stormed Hillsborough Street as the Bell Tower glowed red — an echo of the 1983 frenzy.