-- LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Thousands of black-and-gold-clad fans packed Main Street USA five deep to cheer on the self-proclaimed national champion UCF football team during a raucous parade at Walt Disney World on Sunday afternoon.
With president John Hitt and athletic director Danny White leading the procession in a white car with Mickey Mouse, the UCF marching band, cheerleaders and football team walked the route surrounded by screaming fans, with many holding signs declaring the team national champions. Other fans wore newly printed national championship shirts.
On Monday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott kept the national championship talk going, issuing an official proclamation declaring UCF "this season's best college football team and will be recognized as the 2017 College Football National Champions in Florida." The proclamation cites UCF's undefeated season, win over Auburn, and the fact Auburn beat both teams playing in the national championship game Monday.
During the parade, quarterback McKenzie Milton and linebacker Shaquem Griffin stood atop a parade float and waved at the fans.
"I didn't know what to expect, but it was surreal. Every time we took another turn, I was like, 'Holy cow,' there's that many people here," White said. "Just an awesome showing by Knight Nation."
White declared UCF national champs after a 34-27 win over Auburn in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl to cap a perfect 13-0 season. Then he added to that declaration. A national championship banner will hang inside Spectrum Stadium, and coaches will be paid national championship bonuses.
Players had no idea that White planned to call them national champions -- not even after their win over Auburn.
"It's pretty sweet," Milton said. "It's cool they'd have that kind of confidence in our group, and I just hope they give us some rings while they're at it."
White confirmed Sunday that players will receive rings that celebrate not only the conference and Peach Bowl championships but also the national championship. It will feature the words "national champions."
Ever since UCF's decision to proclaim itself national champion, a debate has raged about whether the playoff should be expanded to include a team such as UCF. White has remained in favor of expansion to eight teams, an idea conference commissioners remain against.
Still, Griffin said every player on the team believes it deserves to be called national champion.
"Every bit of it, every second," Griffin said. "If you tell them to describe themselves, they're going to say the first words national championship. And they deserve it. We worked really hard for it. The only thing we can do is win games, and we won all of them. If you want to put one more in front of us, we'll probably win that one, too."
White said the UCF website crashed on Sunday, as demand has grown for season tickets. He said the school is up to more than 2,500 new season-ticket orders and said he's expecting "enormous growth" of the fan base. In addition to the parade, UCF will host a celebration Monday night in downtown Orlando, just a few hours before kickoff between Alabama and Georgia in the national championship game in Atlanta.
"We've been asked a lot about would we beat Alabama? Would we beat Georgia? And my response to that is: I don't think that's a fair question because nobody's asking them, 'Would they beat us, or would they beat each other?'" White said. "Our kids shouldn't have to stick their neck out like that making these proclamations. At the end of the day, we had a perfect season. We're going to celebrate it. Our celebrations are about us. It's no disrespect to those programs and those student-athletes. They obviously deserve the accolades they're getting as well."