Fandemonium greets Steelers parade


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Gathering in true Steelers weather -- cold and intermittent snow -- a crowd estimated by police at 350,000 lined Downtown sidewalks 20 deep this afternoon to celebrate the Super Bowl champions.

Accompanied by high school marching bands, a truck carrying team owner Dan Rooney and a Corvette with Coach Mike Tomlin led the procession, with trucks bearing team members and coaches following.

Pointing his digital camera out the window, Mr. Rooney took pictures of the fans lining Grant Street. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger rode on the back of a truck with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, both of them videotaping the crowd.

Wild shrieks greeted receiver Hines Ward and safety Troy Polamalu, especially when the latter jumped from a truck into the crowd.

Linebacker James Harrison, whose 100-yard interception return for a touchdown, gave the Steelers a halftime lead on Sunday, carried the Lombardi Trophy. Receiver Santonio Holmes, who caught the winning touchdown pass, flashed his Super Bowl MVP trophy.

   
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Fans thronged the intersection of Stanwix Street and the Boulevard of the Allies, the destination of players and public officials after a trip over Grant Street and down the boulevard. Some climbed trees along the boulevard, three to a tree, for a view of the stage.

Loudspeakers alternately played "Here We Go, Steelers" and "We are the Champions," drawing cheers every time.

Mr. Rooney and Mr. Tomlin both thanked the fans, and Mr. Rooney drew cheers when he suggested that maybe the team would get its seventh Super Bowl victory next year. A line of players followed, most thanking fans, leading cheers or letting out roars of their own.

The throng around the intersection was so thick, including school age children with advanced black and gold fever, it forced the nearby St. Mary of Mercy Church to cancel confessions.

An exact crowd count is impossible, city officials said.

"It was a lot of people," police Cmdr. George Trosky said. "By 8 a.m., it was packed."

But by the end of the day, police issued an estimate of 350,000.

Despite the massive numbers, police said there were only a few incidents of disorderly behavior and they were handled without need for arrest.

"It couldn't have been smoother," Cmdr. Trosky said. "The crowd was very orderly. Everybody had fun."

City Public Safety Director Michael Huss added, "All in all we were very happy with the outcome." Police said the crowd was orderly as it departed Downtown, and the Port Authority reported its buses and trolleys were back on schedule and their regular routes.

Late in the parade, Deputy Chief Mark Bocian of the city Emergency Medical Services said his crews had been called for only three incidents: a person who passed out, a person who had a seizure and a person with an asthma attack.


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While the lower end of town was packed early, the crowd took a little longer to fill Grant Street but eventually jammed the start of the parade route near the Pennsylvanian.

Ricky Riggenbach, 47, of New Martinsville, W.Va., was decked out in his Hines Ward jersey.

Mr. Riggenbach recently moved back to the region after 22 years in Massachusetts, where, he said, he was tired of seeing Patriots jerseys.

"I want to be buried in a Steelers jersey," he said.

Dolores Cousins, 54, of McKees Rocks, walked up and down Grant with a horn, making a honking sound every 30 seconds or so to cheers of surrounding fans waiting to celebrate Sunday's defeat of the Arizona Cardinals.

While most people Downtown were celebrating, vendors were working hard to keep up with the demand. Frank Kandcer of Lincoln Place was selling hats, gloves and pennants on Wood Street near Point Park University, which canceled daytime classes today.

"It's definitely a busy work day, but it's great for the city, the economy, the restaurants, Downtown," said Mr. Kandcer of VIP Vending in the Strip District.

"These people love their Steelers. You could sell a used napkin if it's black and gold."

Fans had begun gathering by 5 a.m.

The city threw a curveball at Downtown motorists, closing some streets before the announced time of 9:30 a.m. to prepare for the parade.

The city, in a news release issued at 8:45 a.m., said additional streets were to be closed at 9 a.m.

But the closures began earlier. The Boulevard of the Allies was closed by 6:30 a.m., others shortly after 8 a.m., stopping motorists in their tire tracks as they tried to access the lower Golden Triangle.

Some motorists on Commonwealth Place, trying to turn left onto the Boulevard of the Allies, instead had to cross the Fort Duquesne Bridge to approach Downtown from the north. And motorists coming down Fort Pitt Boulevard also were prohibited from turning left onto the boulevard, adding to the congestion toward the center of the city.

Adding to the congestion were fans who gathered along the boulevard before dawn, laying claim to the best spots.

To ease the trip home, PennDOT opened the Parkway North HOV lane early, at 2 p.m.

Lacking from the route: portable toilets.

"We really didn't provide any for the spectators because of the short duration of the parade," said Mr. Huss.

Port Authority operated extra service on the South Hills rail system, but fans heeding authorities' advice to take public transit to the parade overwhelmed the system.

More than 120 passengers jammed the Potomac station this morning and watched as already-jammed trains arrived and departed. The same was true closer to town, as packed trolleys could not stop to take on additional passengers.

One passenger at South Hills Village -- the first stop on inbound trains -- reported long lines waiting to board trains.

The Port Authority planned to operate extra service for the remainder of the day, spokesman Dave Whipkey said. "We're basically doing the best we can," he said.

One family from Hollidaysburg, Blair County, set up at Stanwix and the boulevard before dawn. They were among 20 to 30 fans gathered by 5 a.m. at the intersection.

Six high school marching bands were participating -- one for each Steelers Super Bowl victory -- in the parade. The bands are from Brashear, Perry, Carrick, Thomas Jefferson, Bethel Park and South Fayette.

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Jessica LaDow can be reached at jladow@post-gazette.com . First Published February 3, 2009 12:00 PM


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