They wore hockey sweaters in stifling heat and humidity. They made signs, mugged for cameras, gave interviews and a few even left early on stretchers because of the heat. Didn't faze the masses one bit.
It wasn't long ago that finding a Blackhawks fan in this city was akin to finding dinosaur bones. They had to be unearthed, marveled at simply for their steadfastness in times so lean they would've made Paris Hilton jealous. Now, after the Hawks have won the 2010 Stanley Cup, it's hard to walk down the street without bumping into a Hawks fan.
They are everywhere and anywhere, and they flocked to Friday's victory celebration in huge numbers -- lining a parade route that stretched from Washington Avenue and Wacker Drive to Michigan Avenue and Wacker in the heart of the city.
Just a little ways from where the stage was placed, on the banks of the Chicago River, Haitian immigrant Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable built a home, farm and trading post more than 200 years ago -- thus becoming the city's now-commonly accepted first resident.
On Friday, thousands of city residents -- and plenty from the 'burbs -- celebrated a new installment in its treasured history, a new installment in a sports-crazy town. These new-wave Blackhawks have taken Chicago by storm, winning hearts and making believers out of many who once thought seeing the Stanley Cup paraded down Michigan Avenue was impossible, a child's fantasy.
Not anymore. It's reality now.
Lord Stanley's Cup is back in the Windy City after 49 long years, and Friday was the perfect party capper. It was a day for forgetting past woes, remembering past heroes, celebrating the present and even paving the way for the future -- all rolled up into one bodacious Hawks love fest, heat be darned.
"We got out here at about 6:30 this morning," said Brittany Potenza, who took a 5 a.m. train into the city along with cousin Danielle Anetsberger. "I was supposed to work today, but I just had to be here. It's OK, though. I work for a really cool guy. He's probably out here, too."
Potenza and Anetsberger were as close to the stage as non-VIP guests could get. They had another cousin with them, Frankie Simonelli, who also relished the day after growing up in Bensenville, Ill., rooting for the Hawks. Simonelli is now a standout hockey player in his own right, a defenseman headed to the University of Wisconsin to play.
He has also played on the United States Under-18 National Team -- the same team that Hawks star Patrick Kane
played for at that age. Kane isn't Simonelli's favorite player to watch, though.
"I like (Niklas) Hjalmarsson," he said of the Hawks' Swedish defenseman. "He can do a little bit of everything on the blue line and he's not afraid to step in front of the puck to block shots."
Others showed up even earlier than Potenza, Anetsberger and Simonelli. Some arrived at midnight the night before, while others showed up in the wee hours -- like Anthony DeGrado and Jordan Maloney, who staked out their spot around 4:30 a.m.
DeGrado was hard to miss. He spray-painted a beer keg costume silver, took a St. Patrick's Day top hat, attached a salad bowl on top of it and painted that silver, too. Just like that, he became the Stanley Cup – and a media favorite.
"I just had to do it," he said.
Maloney, though, may be an even bigger Hawks fan than DeGrado -- despite her lack of costume.
"He gets too nervous during games," she said. "He can't even watch sometimes. I can."
They had no problems watching Friday's celebration, standing in the front row. Once the parade came by, fans saw tour buses and trolleys full of Hawks players -- past and present -- roll slowly by as confetti machines filled the sky with strips of white, black and red paper.
Team owner Rocky Wirtz was feted with chants of "Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!" for rebuilding the franchise that he took over after his father Bill died in the fall of 2007. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn both proudly wore their Hawks gear. From high above, people watched from the windows of office buildings, with some tossing out strands of paper.
It was a full-on Hawks party, Chicago style, and it didn't go unnoticed. Coach Joel Quenneville made sure to complement Daley's knack for throwing a party, while the Hawks thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
Defenseman Duncan Keith
showed his toothless grin -- courtesy of a puck in the face a couple of weeks ago -- and asked the crowd: "Anybody know a good dent-ithst?"
Dustin Byfuglien held aloft the "heavyweight belt" the team has passed around since late in the regular season. It goes to the star for each game, and Byfuglien had it after scoring twice and assisting on two other goals in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.
He made sure to transfer the belt to Kane on stage for scoring a goal that wasn't initially seen by anybody but Kane and Patrick Sharp
-- a goal that ensured the Cup would be Midwest-bound for the start of its annual summer globe-trotting mission.
Kane even felt good enough to poke fun at himself. Last summer he was arrested in a dispute about cab fare in his hometown of Buffalo. Then, during the regular season, he and other Hawks were caught in embarrassing online photos that showed them shirtless in a limousine in Vancouver partying.
"I'll try to keep my shirt on all summer," Kane blurted into the microphones, laughing. "And to all the cab drivers out there … I love ya!"
Sharp and captain Jonathan Toews
also spoke -- Toews after bringing out the Cup to a roar as the last player introduced. There was also an awkward musical moment, which seems to be required for these sorts of things.
Forward Kris Versteeg, hat backward and sunglasses firmly in place, left everybody a little dumbfounded with a warbling rap song he wrote. No matter. Everybody laughed, even the "Golden Jet" himself. Bobby Hull and other Hawks greats were brought on stage to be part of the scene, too, making for one memorable photo-op and homage to the Hawks' rich Original Six tradition.
Emceeing was Ed Olczyk, the former Hawks star and now broadcaster for both local and national TV networks. He may have summed the day up best in his opening address:
"I don't think the corner of Michigan and Wacker has ever looked so good," said the guy known around these parts as "Edzo."
Even Pointe du Sable might agree.
Author: Brian Hedger | NHL.com Correspondent