college basketball

The most memorable March Madness fan moments

Profile Picture: Ashley Anderson

March 26th, 2021

No buzzer-beater would feel as shockingly sweet without the roaring cacophony of fans screaming with excitement during the NCAA Tournament.

While the action on the hardwood is the heart of March Madness, the reaction of diehard supporters standing in the crowd is the soul of the Big Dance.

During the tournament, cameras often catch glimpses of joy and sorrow splashed across fans’ faces, as they witness their team rise above in an unthinkable upset or crumble in agonizing defeat.

Some of these fans get far more than a split-second of air time during one of the most-watched sporting events of the year. A few end up immortalized as viral internet memes or gain an extra 15 minutes of fame during SportsCenter replays.

From band members choking back tears, to a sacred centenarian beaming with pride courtside, let’s reminisce on the most memorable fan moments in March Madness history.

Sister Jean takes center stage

Back in 2018, No. 11 seed Loyola Chicago made a run to the Final Four and arguably got a little help from a lady who is in with the man upstairs.

Jean Dolores Schmidt, known simply as Sister Jean, became an instant internet sensation when she was seen hugging Ramblers players on the court after games. As her popularity grew, the 98-year-old team chaplain became a hot commodity at press conferences, and even had her name and image licensed by Loyola-Chicago, so the school could sell merchandise of the beloved nun.

Now age 101, Sister Jean is back in the limelight, as the Ramblers take on Oregon State in the Sweet 16.

While the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NCAA Tournament to limit capacity to 25% inside the Indianapolis bubble, Sister Jean was cleared to attend, because she received her COVID-19 vaccine.

The spunky Sister already sparked a new viral moment in 2021, when she recited a unique prayer, filled with statistical analysis, before Loyola Chicago upset No. 1 Illinois in the round of 32.

Fatherly love for North Texas player

There aren't as many fans to cut to during 2021 March Madness coverage, since players, coaches, essential staff, and family make up most of the 25% capacity permitted at Indianapolis arenas.

But with the smaller crowd, it is much easier to spot special people in the stands, like  North Texas guard Javion Hamlet's dad. 

During the Mean Green's upset win over No. 4 Purdue, Hamlet's father wore a sweater with his son's image and a list of the senior guard's achievements.

He also made sure to document all of Javion's successes during the tournament on his iPad.

The younger Hamlet racked up 24 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists to help No. 13 North Texas advance to the round of 32.

Michigan State's waffle fanatic

In 2019, a 22-year-old Nathan Guzowski and his eye-catching waffle head gear snagged the attention of a member of the ESPN broadcast team during a game between Michigan State and Michigan.

Dubbed "Waffle Guy" by the announcer, Guzowski capitalized on his sudden fame by creating a GoFundMe page so he could raise money to attend the Big Ten Tournament.

Spartans fans poured in the cash, which allowed Guzowski to travel to the conference tourney and the Big Dance.

Last spotted at the 2019 Final Four, "Waffle Guy" was the talk of Twitter, as Michigan State fell to Texas Tech in the national semifinal.

Wisconsin's sad Teletubby

Not every costumed character can put on a happy face while their team loses on the biggest stage.

In 2015, Wisconsin fan Tyler Hartmann made a trip to the Final Four and decided to show his support for the cardinal-and-white club by donning a red Teletubby costume.

In the unusual garb, Hartman celebrated the Badgers' triumph over 38-0 Kentucky in the national semifinal.

Then his jubilation turned to despair, as Wisconsin saw its title hopes end to Duke in the National Championship Game.

Following the loss, Hartmann's face became the symbol of Wisconsin sadness on the Internet.

Marching band madness

Aside from the fans anxiously observing the on-court action, some of March Madness' most notable memories have played out in the marching band section.

The Kansas drummer boy

Sometimes the band can get a little overzealous, like this Kansas drummer.

Crying piccolo girl

The band members we remember most are those who couldn't keep their cool as their school was eliminated from the tournament.

Perhaps the most famous piccolo player in the world, Roxanne Chalifoux will never live down the moment she was caught crying when Villanova lost to NC State in the 2015 tournament.

Chalifoux got the last laugh, when she was invited to perform alongside The Roots on The Tonight Show.

She also watched the Wildcats bounce back and win the 2016 NCAA Tournament in one of the most thrilling finishes in a championship game

Crying saxophone girl

With Villanova victorious in 2016, crying piccolo girl needed to be replaced by another woodwind instrument specialist. 

In stepped Taylor Hunt, who unsuccessfully hid her melancholy behind a saxophone, as Kentucky fell to Indiana in the second round of the 2016 tournament.

March sadness

Crying Northwestern kid

While not a member of the school band, the March Madness blues also hit John Phillips (son of former Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips), during the Wildcats' loss in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

In the school's only tournament appearance, Northwestern was sent packing by top seed Gonzaga in the second round, and Phillips could hardly handle the reality.

A year later, CBS and Turner seemed a little too intent on catching more crying children at tournament games, which drew backlash.

For Phillips, though, he took his brush with fame in stride.

Now in college, Phillips agreed to let Pizza Hut use his infamous meltdown as part of an ad campaign in 2019.

As a mark of how much this once-anguished kid has matured, Phillips donated the financial compensation he received from the Pizza Hut commercial to two different charities.