DALLAS — As the final seconds ticked off the clock in North Texas’ 36-14 win against UNLV in Wednesday’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, two men stood at the edge of the end zone guarding a set of cardboard boxes.
The two men leaned over and opened the long, brown boxes containing UNT’s championship hats. A police officer looked at the men and said, “How many y’all got? Y’all got enough?”
After they responded affirmatively, the officer replied, “There’s 102 over there.”
They jogged onto the field with about 10 seconds left as the Mean Green’s sideline spilled onto the field to celebrate the team’s third bowl victory in school history and its first since 2002.
The final seconds sparked a scene UNT’s fans, players and staff had not seen in a long time. UNT head coach Dan McCarney stood in the middle of the Cotton Bowl field and faced the sea of green, scattered with waves of people who received hand-written tickets after the ticket stock at the Cotton Bowl ran out.
“This is not the end,” McCarney said to a chorus of cheers. “This is only the beginning.”
By the time McCarney issued the statement, a few of the 38,380 people in attendance trickled out of the bleachers and onto the field despite a warning from the public address announcer to stay off the field.
For some, those words were apparently drowned out by the roaring sea.
A few fans started spilling over the railing and ran toward the team at the middle of the field. One fan leaped over a police officer and laughed. The officer shook his head, pulled out his handcuffs and went into the middle of the field searching for the fan.
Other fans pleaded with officers to let them on the field as they watched others jump over the railing and others get corralled by officers. At one staircase, a field enforcer gave up and started allowing people onto the field before more police arrived to contain the crowd.
The crowd cheered heartily when UNT senior quarterback Derek Thompson received the game’s MVP trophy. After McCarney thanked the crowd for the support, a few fans went up the stands and past the police officers, who weren’t giving high-fives. Others went up the same tunnel the players went through after the game.
In the postgame news conference, UNLV head coach Bobby Hauck sat with senior quarterback Caleb Herring and junior wide receiver Devante Davis, all three glossy-eyed as they spoke with the media.
As Hauck reflected on his season, McCarney walked through the door wearing one of the commemorative hats and carrying the Heart of Dallas Bowl trophy.
He realized Hauck was in the middle of his interviews, set the trophy down and walked out before Hauck realized he was in the room. Later on, a bowl staff member draped a black jacket over the trophy in the corner of the room.
McCarney came back in, picked up the trophy and extolled the job Hauck had done at UNLV, before he and his players talked about the traveling fans who watched UNT win.
“Walking into one of the great stadiums in the history of college football, you have a whole sea of green, it’s unbelievable,” McCarney said. “You can’t lose your focus and start looking around at all the people, but it was a great sight.”
Following the news conference, McCarney and three of the team’s key 22 seniors walked into the elevator, McCarney still holding the trophy and wearing the hat.
The elevator’s doors almost closed and reopened as UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal approached the group.
“Come on in Rick,” McCarney said. “We’ve got room.”