On the night of Villanova's last NCAA basketball championship win 31 years ago, students, alumni and other devoted fans stormed the Radnor-area campus in celebration. Booze flew off the shelves of local liquor stores and roads were closed.
That's how Michael McGrath, police superintendent for Lower Merion Township, a patrolman at the time, remembers it. Now, as the Wildcats take on the No. 1-seeded University of North Carolina Tarheels at 9 p.m. Monday in Houston for the national championship, McGrath has the challenge of helping coordinate a safety plan with officers from agencies throughout the region in case of a Nova victory.
The Radnor Township Police Department is the lead agency in that effort, also coordinating with the Villanova Department of Public Safety. Radnor police have scheduled extra officers on duty, who will be equipped with more protective equipment than usual, such as pepper spray and handcuffs, and also will be ready to close roads if necessary.
Vacation days and time off have been canceled for all Radnor police staff, Lt. Chris Flanagan said.
"We have been meeting for awhile, knowing once they got to the Elite 8 we would really have to have our act together," he said Sunday. "We are now in DEFCON-1 with the championship game."
Preparation began a week ago, when police developed a preliminary draft plan for Saturday night's Final Four game - and the potential of Villanova making it to the championship game. Nova did by blowing out the University of Oklahoma, 95-51.
One of the first tasks in the security preparation was looking at footage from Villanova's championship victory in 1985, when the Cats defeated the Georgetown Hoyas. Police also interviewed witnesses from that euphoric time to get an idea of what a win Monday night might look like - from a celebration sense.
In 1985, traffic on Lancaster Avenue was backed up from the university to Haverford, and one person was arrested during the revelry, according to McGrath.
This time around, emergency operation centers around Radnor will house police, fire and EMT responders under one roof to coordinate a response to any incidents. There will be police on horseback, motorcycles, bicycles and on foot throughout the area, watching for fans throwing bottles, lighting things on fire, or flipping vehicles, McGrath said.
Villanova's public safety department will have about 100 officers on duty and Lower Merion police will provide at least 15 patrol officers, two supervisors, a lieutenant and a captain. The university is also coordinating with other police departments in Delaware and Montgomery Counties, as well as the Pennsylvania State Police.
State Police are prepared to shut down parts of Lancaster Avenue if fans storm the streets, Flanagan said.
After Saturday's win, police closed Lancaster Avenue for about 45 minutes - and arrested eight people, charging six with felonies, including punching and slapping police horses.
On campus, people climbed streetlamps, threw objects and vandalized the area, said Debra Patch, associate director of public safety at Villanova. No one was seriously hurt.
"It's a great source of pride for everybody here at the university to be a part of this," Patch said. "We want people to celebrate, but we want them to do it responsibly."