Pittsburgh honors Penguins; 375,000 pack Downtown to cheer Stanley Cup champs
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma, with his son, Bryan, and wife, Mary Beth, waves to the crowd along the Boulevard of the Allies yesterday afternoon.
Center Evgeni Malkin shows some love to the Stanley Cup he helped bring back to Pittsburgh.
Fans line the Boulevard of the Allies, Downtown, for yesterday's parade.
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Pittsburgh is getting pretty good at this victory parade stuff. But then, practice makes perfect.
For the second time this year and the third time in three years, hundreds of thousands of fans jammed Downtown streets to honor a championship sports team, this time the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. City officials estimated 375,000 fans jammed Downtown streets and parking garages and hung from the windows of office buildings along the parade route for a glimpse of the National Hockey League champions.
Warm weather combined with the end of the school year to draw the huge throng to the Golden Triangle.
The team didn't disappoint.
From team captain Sidney Crosby and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury taking turns thrusting the revered Cup overhead to Coach Dan Bylsma and players Max Talbot, Bill Guerin, Hal Gill, Matt Cooke and Eric Godard stepping off their vehicles to slap hands with the crowd along the Boulevard of the Allies, this was another chapter in the sports world's most public victory celebration.
Since the team clinched the championship by defeating the Detroit Red Wings Friday night, the cup has made visits with its temporary owners to team owner Mario Lemieux's swimming pool early Saturday, East Carson Street on the South Side Saturday night and PNC Park for Sunday's game with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Yesterday, in addition to carrying it along the parade route, players passed the cup among themselves yet again on the Stanwix Street stage and filled it with champagne that was served to the parents of Mr. Crosby and playoffs' most valuable player Evgeni Malkin.
This parade came on the heels of the Pittsburgh Steelers winning the Super Bowl in February. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said the sports championships and Pittsburgh's selection to host the G-20 world economic summit in September make this a special year for the city.
"It's the triple crown, I guess, right? The Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup and the G-20," the mayor said. "It's great. When you look at our sports teams and the exposure they bring the city, in a positive way, it's great.
"So all throughout the Stanley Cup finals and then today, with the parade happening in Pittsburgh, it's national news. It gives Pittsburgh another chance to shine in the spotlight, and it's exciting, it really is. We're once again the City of Champions, and it's a great day, a great time, to live in the city of Pittsburgh."
The city seems to be learning from its frequent parades. After the first Steelers parade allowed open access to players from Downtown sidewalks, nervous public safety personnel placed barriers along route in February. This time, a giant television screen was added to provide entertainment/diversion for fans who arrived as many as eight hours before the parade's noon start.
Along the route yesterday, massive cheers echoed throughout the narrow Grant Street corridor, as viewers hung from windows at the federal courthouse, filled up steps at the U.S. Steel Tower and the Mellon building and waved from open windows in the Koppers Building. At 12:30, Mr. Crosby and the cup passed a cheering throng at the City-County Building. Near-deafening cheers and confetti also greeted Mr. Crosby at the six-level garage at the corner of Smithfield and the Boulevard of the Allies.
When the parade ended, team officials and players took the stage. Mr. Lemieux, Mr. Bylsma and the players went out of their way to thank fans for their support. The team arranged for a giant GoVision screen above the stage, which also provided a better view when the players spoke.
Penguins spokesman Tom McMillan said the screen was a natural followup to the JumboTron the team had for playoff home games, drawing thousands to watch outside Mellon Arena until NBC pulled the plug for games the network televised during the final cup series.
"Fans responded so well [to the JumboTron] that we thought we'd continue that tradition with the parade," he said.
In his remarks, team General Manager Ray Shero saluted the fans for inspiring the team.
"Game 6 [a home game when the Penguins faced elimination if they lost] was the best crowd I've ever seen," he said. "They propelled us to victory and on to Game 7."
Mr. Bylsma also thanked fans for being "a real big part" of the team's success. Noting the Steelers' championship earlier this year, Mr. Bylsma said Pittsburgh again is "the City of Champions. That's much better than Hockey Town," Detroit's nickname.
Mr. Crosby said he and his teammates reveled in the atmosphere of the parade.
"Today is better than I ever dreamed. This is better than I think any of us has ever dreamed," he said. "We don't want to stop at one [Stanley Cup victory]. We want to go for more."
That would sit fine with fans such as Rob Rieker, who was born in Pittsburgh but has spent the last 12 years living in Wilmington, N.C. When Mr. Talbot scored his second goal in Friday's game, Mr. Rieker knew it was time for him to return home for a visit to Pittsburgh. He has been waiting for a Penguins victory parade since the last time they won the cup in 1992.
Mr. Rieker arrived in Pittsburgh early yesterday morning after 600 miles and 11 hours of driving.
"It was worth every minute of driving," Mr. Rieker said.
First Published June 16, 2009 12:00 am