CHICAGO | From the jubilant parade all the way to the boisterous rally, millions of excited fans spent a sun-drenched Friday celebrating another Stanley Cup title for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Dressed mostly in red and black, they came out to say thanks for the memories. Turns out, captain Jonathan Toews and Co. wanted to return the favor.
"This shows how unbelievable this city is," Toews said, addressing the rapt crowd at Grant Park. "Unbelievable. Thank you."
The Blackhawks rode to the rally in red, open-topped buses, passing waving and screaming fans of every age as the parade traveled from the United Center to the downtown party. Toews hoisted the Stanley Cup over his head to show it off to the crowd, which was cooled by large water misters placed along the route with temperatures in the low 80s.
One of the many signs read "Thank you, guys" on the top line and "Best 17 seconds of my life" for the second part — referring to the pair of late goals that lifted the Blackhawks to a 3-2 title-clinching victory over the Boston Bruins on Monday night. And there was at least one expression of love for Andrew Shaw, the hardscrabble forward who required stitches on his face after he was hit by a puck Monday.
It was the second championship in four seasons for the Blackhawks, and authorities thought Friday's crowd was even heartier than the 2 million who came out in 2010.
"What do you say we get back here and do it again next year?" forward Patrick Sharp said to a big cheer at the rally.
The Grant Park crowd also enjoyed a brief but colorful speech by normally reserved goaltender Corey Crawford, who drew wide grins and chuckles from his teammates.
"It's tough to follow that speech by Corey Crawford," Toews said after he carried the Cup onto the stage.
Griffith's Danny Bolda headed to the rally with a replica Stanley Cup of his own.
"I made it at the beginning of the final round," he said. "I put it away until the finals were over."
Bolda arrived early at the East Chicago South Shore station with his 10-year-old sister, Morgan, mother, Barbara, and hundreds of other fans who heeded suggestions by Chicago officials to take public transportation to the celebration.
"We've always been fans," Barbara Bolda said. "My husband has been a fan since he was 2 years old."
Morgan Bolda said she was hoping to catch of glimpse of her favorite player, Andrew Shaw, on the double-decker bus in the parade.
"He's my favorite because he's tough and a good player," she said.
Tracy Noojin, of Hammond, had Blackhawks tattoos on her cheeks and her 8-month-old daughter, Brooklyn, in tow for the celebration.
"She stayed up for all the games screaming at the TV," Noojin said as Brooklyn gnawed on a Blackhawks necklace. "She wore a helmet for two months and it was all decorated in Blackhawks stuff. She just got it off last week. She was like a little mascot."
Juan Salazar, of East Chicago, was heading into Chicago for the rally and parade wearing a Blackhawks cap signed by a number of players and coach Joel Quenneville.
Salazar said his favorite moment of the season was Game 7 of the Detroit series, because he was there.
"It was crazy," he said.
Debbie and Roger Wargo, of Munster, said they have been fans for years and passed the love of the Hawks on to their kids.
"We've been fans since the tickets were $8 a seat," Debbie Wargo said.
Their son, Kyle Wargo, played hockey for the state championship Munster team.
Friend Jerry Beach said the recent storms didn't deter him from watching any of the finals.
"When the storm ripped through the area, we had to find someone who had power on and move our barbecues over there," Beach said. "We never missed a game."
The train platform was a sea of red shirts and jerseys early Friday. Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District Police Chief Robert Byrd said fans started gathering on the platform at 5:15 a.m.
Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said 42 people were taken to hospitals with heat-related health problems. He also said 20 people jumped into a restricted part of Lake Michigan and the Fire Department made sure that all 20 came out of the water.
The massive crowd at the park grew steadily all morning long, with the most ardent supporters camping out overnight, ready to sprint to the big stage the minute police swung the barriers aside. By the time buses delivered the players and their families, the park was packed.
The franchise's fifth Stanley Cup was the culmination of a banner season for the Blackhawks, who set an NHL record when they recorded at least one point in the first 24 games — half of the lockout-shortened schedule. They finished with the best record in the league.