ORLANDO, Fla. -- The chants rang out between Fantasyland and Main Street, U.S.A., then carried into downtown Orlando later the next day.
"We want Bama!"
UCF opened an alternate college football universe Sunday afternoon and into Monday evening, celebrating a self-proclaimed national championship as fervently as one that came with the official trophy Alabama won after downing Georgia in Atlanta.
Left outside the College Football Playoff party, UCF athletic director Danny White decided to throw the parties himself, because, really, why not? Nobody could stop him. Other programs had claimed mythical championships, including (cough, cough) Alabama.
White went all in and thousands came along on the journey: little boys wearing helmets and jerseys, little girls dressed as cheerleaders and grown-ups wearing newly printed national championship shirts. Orlando, filled with natives and transplants from all over the world, unified in black and gold, if only to send a message to a staid system that they would not sit back and take their place behind schools with bigger names and more losses.
Just listen to those lyrics now ...
"A dream is a wish your heart makes, and a championship is a title your AD takes."
It all began last week, after UCF beat Auburn 34-27 in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta. White proclaimed his 13-0 UCF team national champions. From there, the party planning began: a parade at Disney's Magic Kingdom on Sunday afternoon, then a block party on Church Street in downtown Orlando on Monday evening -- only a few hours before the actual national championship game (in Atlanta no less).
The first clue Sunday would be unlike any normal Disney World day were the UCF chants on the trams in the vast parking lot that shuttles guests from their cars to the park. Nearly everybody who boarded had traded in their Star Wars shirts and princess gowns for black-and-gold UCF gear.
Once inside the park, black-and-gold balloons dotted lampposts and fans lined up four- and five-deep along the sidewalks, universal in their praise for what White had done.
"He's brilliant," said Ryan Francis, who had a spot close to the Magic Kingdom entrance. "Here we are still talking about it."
His friend, Mark Crowe, chimed in: "All the SEC mouthpiece people, that's all they could talk about all week."
"Now we're buying national championship gear," Francis said. "It's been a surreal week. Who knows if this will ever happen again?"
Further down Main Street, Kris Nighswonger wore a Disney button that proclaimed, "I'm celebrating UCF national champions!" Her son is in the UCF marching band, and she attended the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta.
"It was awesome," she said. "Greatest experience ever."
And the Knights proclaiming themselves national champions?
"I think it's perfect," she said. "I love it. It was the right thing to do."
A few steps away, Glenn Schneck held a mini version of UCF's mascot, Knightro, named #LilKnightro. His friend, Kristy Allison, designed what resembled a Miami turnover chain for LilKnightro's neck.
"No, it's a win chain," Schneck explained.
Allison had printed out tickets from each UCF game this season, complete with the final score, and had them laminated. As Schneck walked around with LilKnightro, fellow UCF fans asked for pictures.
"It's been the best season ever," said Schneck, who has two degrees from UCF. "It's been a dream."
Schneck also attended the Peach Bowl and said he and his friends started screaming "national champions!" in the stands when the game ended.
"We beat everybody we played," he said. "We played everybody they let us play. If they let us play more people, we'll play more people."
Up and down Main Street, all the way to Cinderella Castle, the crowd grew thicker. Some wore black-and-gold Mickey Mouse ears. Others held signs proclaiming their Knights national champions. Nearly everyone had something UCF on -- even a dad wearing a green Miami cap and jacket.
"He has his UCF shirt on underneath," his wife assured.
When the parade began, fans started whooping and hollering. Players hammed it up for cameras, took selfies and high-fived those along the route. Linebacker Shaquem Griffin sheepishly admitted later the confetti that sprayed high into the air scared him a few times. "But it's all worth it," he said. "Being here at Disney and being able to experience so much -- it's going to be a memory of a lifetime."
As soon as the parade made its way toward the park entrance, fans started chanting, "We want Bama!" Then they lined up along the East Plaza Garden Lawns, hoping for a glimpse of White, Griffin and quarterback McKenzie Milton. As soon as someone spotted White and called him over, one fan shouted, "Don't ever leave us!"
"Our kids deserve [this]," White said. "They played 13 games and won all 13 of them. They did everything inside their control, and what was outside our control that fell in our favor is nobody else went undefeated, so we feel strongly we have every right to claim a national championship and that's why we're doing it."
As day turned to night, and Cinderella Castle shimmered in twinkling icicle lights, a man wearing a UCF Santa cap got on one knee and proposed.
She said yes.
The celebration would continue into the next day. For all UCF fans, anyway.
Between 5,000 and 10,000 fans packed Church Street, once a thriving nighttime hub known for its bars and wild atmosphere. One intrepid Alabama fan showed up and flipped the usual script, holding up a sign that read, "We want UCF!" He planned to watch the title game there on Church, "in peace and quiet."
Beer vendors lined the streets, along with games for kids, a merchandise tent, picture-taking center and others hawking their wares.
The Prince George Journal, based in Emporia, Virginia, sent four employees down to sell commemorative newspapers and posters. Why? Because director of operations Chad Harrison decided the newspaper would proclaim UCF national champions last week. Shortly after that announcement, its PayPal site crashed because so many people tried to access it. Leigh Ann Shields, the graphics department coordinator, said they brought 1,000 copies to sell. "This has been so much fun for us," she said.
Next to her, students from the school newspaper, Knight News, hawked national championship T-shirts they made up to raise money: Two for $30.
All around, fans packed in tighter and tighter toward a stage at the end of the street, many holding up cell phones, others holding cups filled with beer. On the balconies that line the block, fans hung tight to the railing, squeezing in for a better view. One man sat on the rooftop, taking pictures with his phone.
The formal program began after the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl replay wrapped up on the big screen. As Chequan Burkett made the game-clinching interception, the fans roared their approval.
Two trophies were presented, including one from Reddit (which also declared UCF national champion). Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer presented UCF with a key to the city. The crowd was reminded Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued an official proclamation declaring UCF as the national champion.
Then four players took the stage, including Milton, who got the "Heisman! Heisman!" chants. Asked about offseason plans, Milton said he would continue to work hard in the weight room and, "Go undefeated one more time!"
The crowd roared.
More UCF chants followed. Then White took the stage to "Danny! Danny!"
"This is about these players," he said. "This is about us celebrating our team. Next year, it's going to be just as awesome. We're just getting started. This will be the first of many national championships."
With the entire team fully on stage, gold and white confetti streamed onto the crowd from two giant machines. "We are the champions" and a medley of songs blared as the players danced along and threw more confetti into the crowd.
In the moments after the celebration ended, offensive lineman Wyatt Miller stopped to answer a few questions.
"Being up there on the stage and you look and there's people and then there's more people and then there's more people and you can't even see the end," he said. "So it was cool to just know we have that many people surrounding us. It was unreal."
He was asked for his thoughts on the national championship game between Alabama and Georgia.
"There's a game?" he said with a laugh. "I used to be a Georgia fan, so Go Dawgs I guess. I don't know."
On the street outside, most of the crowd had cleared but some still lingered. And on the big screen behind the stage, the national championship game kicked off.