There was Winthrop's basketball team on national TV, beating mighty Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament.
There stood the brash coach who dazzled with his thousand-dollar suits and blinding jewelry and enough hair gel to clog a manhole. He hunted cameras as a cheetah hunts gazelles.
He challenged Rock Hill and this area to come to games and guaranteed victories if they did.
The nation was rooting for Cinderella - this Winthrop team that played in the NCAA Tournament 10 of 12 years, just like North Carolina and Duke and Kentucky, except this was a small school a generation from being a women's college churning out schoolteachers.
Some fans took planes, trains, and yes, automobiles, to get to Washington state to watch the game against Notre Dame.
A student named Shane Canup spent his life savings to take both a plane and train, and bought a bike to get around while he was there. Another lady came by FedEx plane.
I was the guy who arrived by car after almost 2,600 miles, along with then-Herald sports editor Gary McCann.
He had covered Duke and UNC in their glory days and acknowledged he never covered a better story than Winthrop's meteoric rise from obscurity to stardom in his 38 years on the job that landed him in the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame.
Winthrop won. Winthrop was it.
"The whole country knew Rock Hill and York County because of Winthrop basketball," season ticket-holder Becky Cunningham said. "We were national."
That was 2007.
Now the team loses as much or more than it wins - two losing seasons in the past three years. Crowds last year were often so small and so quiet that when a fan sneezed an old lady on the other side of the Winthrop Coliseum yelled out, "Bless you!"
The players who years ago made old ladies swoon at a nursing home when they showed up to dance as a publicity stunt are gone. The current players don't seem to smile. The current coach smiled, maybe, in 2008. It may have been gas, though.
The box score for the first exhibition game this year, on Nov. 5, might well include Winthrop, the opponent, and the cops.
Even the most ardent supporters of the team know that fans of Winthrop - a school that had to carve a fan base from an area filled with USC and Clemson fans with deep loyalties - took years to be dragged to the arena.
But they came. Winning brought them. Who knows if the fans will come back now, when wins are far fewer and excitement that roared through this city four years ago does not exist.
Cunningham, who spends her days giving dignity to those dying breaths working at a local hospice, hopes Winthrop basketball is not on life support.
Cunningham is not an alum of Winthrop, but she grew to love the team. She still does - even with last week's arrest of two players for fighting at McDonald's near the school at 2:45 a.m., allegedly with beer on their breath just three hours before practice.
She stuck with the team back in April, when two players - now former players - were charged with sexual assault. And last year, when two players were suspended for a few games after an incident in which marijuana was being smoked in a dorm.
"Fans are hurt, no question," Cunningham said. "But these are young men, some just teens, and they are good kids. I've had them in my home. They are good people."
Cunningham will continue to arrange her life to include Winthrop games.
So will Ann Norman, a season ticket-holder, who was so upset by the recent spate of hearing the words "Winthrop basketball" and "police" in the same sentence that she felt compelled to write a letter to the editor complaining about behavior of players.
"I'm the 5-foot, 2-inch lady with the sign at the games that says, 'De-fense!'" Norman said. "I have the towel that I wave - an usher got it for me. I love Winthrop basketball.
"I came from Missouri five years ago. This is my connection to Rock Hill and York County. This is my team, our team - but this nonsense has to stop."
Dean Faile, Winthrop alum and superfan starting in the lean years when fans numbered by the dozens, not the hundreds or thousands, will not turn his back on the team. This is a guy whose loyalty is so deep his son dressed up for games like a former coach - in suit and tie and hair gel.
Faile is a Rock Hill native who now runs the Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce. His job is to sell a place. He includes Winthrop basketball when he sells this area to businesses.
Yet Faile concedes the basketball team - the school's national marquee - is at a crossroads. Faile has faith that Winthrop's administration will right the basketball ship that is listing under the weight of bad behavior, poor judgment, and the ultimate sin of sports - losing games.
"We have come too far in the past years to let up," Faile said. "We need to find that eye of the tiger again. Winthrop was like Rocky in the movies. We came from nowhere - and then we were the best."
For the pastor, the man of God who says the prayers for Winthrop's basketball team, there are no explanations for players being in a McDonald's at 2:45 a.m.
But the Rev. Mike Lowery said the players are just young guys who might have made a decision that was not the best.
"I was there at practice the day before this happened; these young men were there," Lowery said. "One of them leads the team in prayers if I can't make it."
The only answer to a situation like what took place at McDonald's, said Lowery, is simple: Don't be there at 2:45 a.m. when the bright lights of the world will shine on you if there is a fight.
"I was young once; there were fights," Lowery said. "That doesn't excuse anything. I was in college - but I was not on the college basketball team. These young people have to understand they have to walk to a different drummer.
"They are looked at differently. They have that responsibility."
Playing big-time Division I basketball in a place like Winthrop - a place that has gained national prominence from a lowly start of a funeral procession a dozen years ago, at a place that has no decades of rich male alumni backers who dress up in college sweaters and penny loafers for games, then drop off checks that have many zeroes at the end of the numbers - means every fan must be fought for and kept.
Winthrop's success came when the fans, the community, embraced the team. It can happen again, Lowery said.
"These are fine young men; I know them, and I will not give up on them," Lowery said. "I hope the community does not, either. When they were successful in these games, we all felt we had won something."
Lowery knows there is a solution. Play hard, play well, and earn back the confidence of the community. And, yes, win.
That connection with new fans sprang to life during the last decade when former coach Gregg Marshall always won. The team had its first large crowds inside the 6,100-seat Winthrop Coliseum - and its first-ever sellouts.
The players, Craig Bradshaw and Torrell Martin, Chris Gaynor and James Shuler and Phillip Williams and Michael Jenkins and others, marched in the Come-See-Me parade and were mobbed by kids.
There were players who smiled so much and played with such joy that Winthrop's basketball games turned from a coroner's inquest of a few hundred polite fans to raucous events on ESPN.
Ladies such as transplanted New Yorker Veronica Erwin had players sign jerseys and screamed at games and cried when the team won.
Erwin hugged everybody because she had a winner in her life. Now Erwin even has considered not going to games anymore.
"But I will go," she said. "I love it too much to give up."
Maybe Winthrop itself needs to decide if it wants the work and effort associated with having the best. The Winthrop basketball Web site shows pictures of Martin and Bradshaw, who have been gone for four years.
It's never a good thing if you're trying to generate excitement for a coming season by showing two guys now playing in New Zealand and Germany.
But fans do not attend in the thousands to watch Bible study. Anybody who has watched Lowery stand behind the bench and yell at a referee over a blown call knows games are for letting loose emotions that otherwise get you tasered and locked up at a McDonald's at 2:45 a.m.
Fans watch for excitement, thrills, to be what Cunningham said: "You feel like you are someplace special at a Winthrop game. It's family."
Last season the players could have been altar boys, but their shots clanged off the rims like bricks dropped from a scaffold. Far fewer fans attended than in recent seasons.
Like Faile and Cunningham, Lowery said winning creates confidence, excitement, energy.
"Winning creates a buzz," Lowery said. "You don't win, fans don't come and see you."