Penguins showered with love from fans during largest sports parade in city’s history
The largest sports parade in Pittsburgh’s history greeted its Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday.
With fans 20 rows deep, some packing a large parking garage and others leaning from office building windows in downtown Pittsburgh, the Penguins brought the Stanley Cup down Grant Street and the Boulevard of the Allies.
Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald said he was told the crowd was the largest celebrating a sports championship in the city’s history, which indicates it outdrew the 375,000 that attended the Penguins’ parade in 2009.
Rust and Sheary each hopped from their respective trucks and excitedly stumbled over their words while speaking with local media. Sheary cut his interview short by apologizing, saying “I have to go catch my ride” and running away while pumping his arms.
“This is a little bit more [than he expected],” Sheary said. “These fans are crazy. It’s awesome.”
The Stanley Cup was the star of the show, of course.
It first appeared in Evgeni Malkin‘s truck. Malkin’s father Vladimir, who is extremely popular with Penguins fans, first hoisted the Cup before his son. It somehow made its way to captain Sidney Crosby‘s ride, where he sat in a truck bed with his Conn Smythe Trophy, which he won for being the most valuable player of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Crosby’s truck frequently stopped while passing the packed garage along the route. He hoisted the Cup each time with streamers popping and raining down on the two-time champion, creating a visual similar to one seen seven years ago, when Crosby, then 21, won his first championship.
“This is exactly how I remembered it,” Crosby said atop the stage at the intersection of the Boulevard of the Allies and Stanwix Street. “This is a special town. Obviously, this group of guys, we wanted it bad.”
Penguins forward Phil Kessel got his moment. After grinning and nodding to the crowd along the entire route, Kessel lifted the Cup on the stage, generating possibly the loudest reaction of the day.
The fans braved light showers early Wednesday that cleared in time for the parade’s 11:30 a.m. ET start. The humid weather following the rain didn’t affect the city’s energy during the nearly two-hour long event.
Some fans claimed their spots as early as 3 a.m. Wednesday, including Nick Dailey from Cincinnati. Dailey drove five hours to see his favorite player, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto called the Penguins MVP.
“It’s been a treacherous wait, that’s for sure,” Dailey said. “Ever since 2003, I’m a goalie, so he was my idol growing up. He was the one who got us into the playoffs, especially early in the season. He was our best player all regular season.”
Joe Olinzock flew from Vermont to Pittsburgh on Tuesday to arrive near the Stanwix Street stage at 3:30 a.m.
“Nothing makes me happier than watching hockey, playing hockey and Pittsburgh’s where it’s at,” Olinzock said. “I’ve been a Penguins fan forever. I worked a double [shift] overnight just to be able to come here. Two hours of sleep in two days, and I don’t plan on sleeping until I go home on Thursday.”
Their wait seemed worth it when the players emerged just before noon.
Defenseman Ian Cole rode on one of the first trucks while practicing his “Miss America wave.” So, how was that working for him?
“Pretty poorly,” Cole admitted. “I’m not quite as good looking as Miss America.”
Three days removed from winning the Stanley Cup, Cole said it hasn’t fully hit him.
“I don’t know if it ever will sink in,” Cole said. “It’s one of those things where it’s hard to put into words. You see this many people come out, it’s something really special.”
The parade ended in familiar fashion. Penguins radio analyst Phil Bourque, who won the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 1991 and 1992, recited a popular line and asked the fans to join.
“You guys remember the line? … I start it and you guys finish it, alright?” Bourque asked while greeted with cheers. “What do you say we take this down to the river and party all summer?”