BOSTON — Nearly one year ago, a long-planned trip to visit friends in Chicago coincided with a momentous occasion in hockey history. Of course, that was the Chicago Blackhawks’ victory in the Stanley Cup final, ending 49 years of frustration and bringing a winner back to the Windy City.
The day I landed, Patrick Kane scored in overtime to knock out the Philadelphia Flyers, and I saw a city delirious with joy. The next night, my friends and I wound up at a bar called Stanley’s when the team showed up, taking the Cup around town for a night to remember. And the next morning, two million people packed the streets of downtown Chicago for a parade honoring the champs, a validation for all the dedicated Hawks fans who stayed true through losing seasons.
It was a fantastic week, and I couldn’t help but get swept up in the feeling. Watching my friends double over with happiness over their team was something else. It was clear, the Blackhawks belonged to Chicago, and Chicago was more than happy to throw the team a party it deserved.
And I believe I said out loud at some point that week, “this is great, because I don’t know if I’ll ever get to see this with the Bruins.”
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Though Boston police no longer give out crowd estimates, it is believed that this parade was the second biggest celebration in Boston history, with the crowd size unofficially just south of the Red Sox rally in 2004. Three million people packed the streets of Boston that day, so you can use your best judgment as to how many fans, between one and three million, packed a three-mile route from TD Garden in the north end to Copley Square downtown, dressed in black and gold Bruins sweaters on a sunny, 85-degree day.
There was a special dedication on display by all those fans in long sleeves, not to mention at least three folks in full bear costumes I spotted in and around Boston Common. Huge ovations greeted everyone on the duck boats, including Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara atop the lead boat, Brad Marchand hanging out of one of the middle boats, Mark Recchi riding off into retirement and, of course, the Stanley Cup, passed down from one boat to the next as the parade carried on. By the time the rally reached my spot at the corner of Boylston and Arlington streets, Rich Peverley and Michael Ryder had the honors of showing off the sport’s most coveted prize.
The parade, if nothing else, offered validation to millions of hockey fans across New England. For years, the Bruins and their fans were dismissed by much of the local sports media and, worse, mocked for continuing to root for a team that had the gall to not have won a championship recently. 30-year-old myths, like “the Bruins are cheap,” “they’ll never win” and, worst of all, “no one cares,” were repeated ad nauseum.
Saturday morning was a day for the fans who have hung in there through the lean years and those who have discovered the game and the team at any point in the past three years. The idea that the Bruins will never be relevant, never more than a niche sport, was stabbed through the heart.
This is a team for the people, and the people responded positively. In contrast with the riots and destruction of Vancouver, Boston was respectful in their celebrations on the night of the win, and that sentiment carried over to the parade. This was a peaceful, joyous celebration, a symbol of how sports can unite a city and a region. Just like the Blackhaws and Illinois a year earlier, the Bruins and their fans have become ambassadors for the region.
The Bruins are Boston. They’re New England. They’re ours.