It wasn't a parade.
Parade is too tame a word for what happened in Philadelphia on Thursday morning. There were no floats, no marching bands, no polite applause. As the crowds — many hundreds of thousands, maybe more — crushed close on Broad Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, people moved and spoke as if they were in a dream. The Eagles had won the Super Bowl — actually won — and now they were home to celebrate.
Celebrate might also be too tame a word. Parents pulled their kids out of school and told their own bosses they were sick. They slept in cars and on office floors for prime spots on Broad Street. They walked over the Ben Franklin Bridge, decked in green, in frigid temperatures as the sun rose. They brought coolers and chairs and homemade signs — "JUST CAME 2 SEE WHAT WINNING IS LIKE," one read. Some carried mementos or sprinkled ashes from loved ones who had lived and died rooting for the Eagles.
Much of this took place before dawn, hours before the Eagles rolled up Broad in a caravan of green buses, amid bursts of green and white confetti, and adulation from fans clogging the sidewalks four and five deep. They came by the thousands and kept coming, despite the wind chill in the teens, predictions of transportation gridlock, and so few porta-potties you could almost count them.
"I don't think there'd be this many people if Jesus came back," said Dwight Woods, 49, of North Philadelphia.
Instead of Jesus, the frenzied crowd got Jason Kelce, whose thunderous speech atop the Art Museum steps as the four-hour event neared its end instantly entered the annals not just of Eagles lore, but that of professional sports. In a bejeweled turban and jacket borrowed, naturally, from a Mummers clubhouse, the Eagles lineman screamed an itemized list of insults that had been lobbed at the players, their front office, and the city of Philadelphia over the last season. Underdogs? No more.
"No one wanted us. No one liked this team. No analyst liked this team to win the Super Bowl and nobody likes our fans," he yelled, his voice getting hoarser by the syllable as the momentum built. "You know what I got to say to all those people who doubted us … what my man Jay Ajayi just said: F— you!"
The crowd went wild, some just a few feet from the stage, some a mile or two away, watching on one of the many Jumbotrons.
The path that carried them there was markedly different than in the three other professional championship parades the city has hosted in the last four decades. When the Phillies won in 1980 and 2008, as when the 76ers won in 1983, the teams started in central Philadelphia and wound down Broad to the stadium complex.
The Eagles' trek was longer — nearly five miles — and, perhaps appropriately, went deeper into the heart of the city. They boarded their buses outside the South Philadelphia practice complex and stadium that gave birth to their championship season. They motored up Broad, circled City Hall, and then inched up the Parkway — the picturesque century-old artery, bookended by the Art Museum and LOVE Park, that has become Philadelphia's favored backdrop.
The Eagles paid for the celebration. One estimate put the crowd at around 700,000. The city declined to project how many turned out; it promised a fuller briefing on the event on Friday morning. This was no matter: No one in Philadelphia on Thursday seemed particularly concerned about keeping score anymore, unless you were talking about the number of points the Eagles tallied Sunday night. (Forty-one!)
Still, SEPTA officials estimated 65,000 to 70,000 people used Regional Rail alone Thursday. Bob Hepper, daughter Janee, and coworker Bill Miller drove in from Montgomery County on Wednesday night and slept in their car, waiting for the sun to come up over South Broad. They would wait for hours in the cold before the team buses started rolling.
As the caravan crawled north, Kelce and others stepped off the buses and ran along the edge of the crowds, slapping hands and singing the Eagles fight song. Head coach Doug Pederson carried what appeared to be a homemade sign reading "Thank You Fans," and caught a beer someone threw him from the crowd one-handed. The roars from the sidewalk were deafening.
"I can't see anything, and I'm still crying!" someone sobbed near City Hall as the buses passed.
Running back Corey Clement's family, Glassboro natives all, gathered in Councilman Derek Green's office on the fifth floor of City Hall for a watch party. Calvin Clement, 71, Corey's grandfather, had waited decades to see the Eagles win the Big Game. And for his grandson to help them do it? "It's a storybook ending," he said,
People made friends with their new neighbors amid the throngs, swapped numbers and agreed to meet at the same place next year, when the Eagles win again. (Just let us have this.) A small boy picked up a piece of confetti, turned to his mother, and shouted, "Mom, I've got a memory!" There was at least one marriage proposal.
There were rowdier elements — the early morning drinking, the deploying of several unprintable chants (many led by Kelce), and the hordes of young people scaling every possible elevated surface, including Civil War memorial statues, bus shelters, trees, planters, fences, Jumbotrons, and several trash trucks.
Outside the Municipal Services Building, a man shimmied to the top of a light pole, enjoyed adoring screams from the crowd, jumped down and promptly got into a shouting match with an elderly man. Bystanders chanted "E-A-G-L-E-S" to soothe the combatants, who shook hands and made up.
But mostly absent was any talk of batteries, of Santa Claus and snowballs, or of this town's uniquely Philadelphia brand of rage. This was about the opposite of anger, of disappointment.
As the Parkway Jumbotrons re-played Sunday night's win, fans cheered every touchdown and trick play like they were watching it for the first time. "This is my favorite show in the world," someone yelled.
Down near the stadium, on Snyder, Mia Pflieger-Zane, 16, of Springfield, Delaware County, held a green posterboard sign with a portrait of Nick Foles that she drew in pencil. "I love Foles and Carson Wentz," the teen said. "Carson Wentz is the love of my life."
On Broad Street, people were talking, earnestly, about hope and redemption and catharsis. At Logan Square, the guys smoking Newports by the Swann Fountain were giving out free hugs. A kid from South Jersey, beer in hand on Broad Street, made a speech about underdogs and American aspiration.
"It's hope. This signifies hope for everyone," said Diana Patroni, 45, of Margate, N.J. "If we can come together, if this many people can do this for a sports team, what else can we do?"