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posted: 6/12/2010 12:01 AM

2 million reasons to be a proud Hawks fan

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Winning the Stanley Cup on Wednesday night at the Wachovia Center was the greatest moment in Blackhawks history - until Friday.

Where does one begin to describe the victory parade and celebration in the streets of the Loop on Friday that left many of the Hawks stunned and speechless?

"We had some great moments this year," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We had a lot of fun situations. We had some ups and downs, but this is by far the greatest experience, the greatest thing we did all year. This parade is over the top."

An estimated 2 million fans came out to catch a glimpse of their heroes as they rode atop double-decker buses that departed from the United Center and ended up at Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive for the official rally.

According to the Mayor's Office of Special Events the turnout surpassed the 1.75 million people who were at the World Series parade for the White Sox in 2005.

"This is crazy. This is nuts. This is stupid," Adam Burish said.

I was lucky enough to be in one of the buses - the one carrying Dustin Byfuglien, Dave Bolland, Brian Campbell and Jordan Hendry - and it was a mind-blowing experience, to say the least.

My ears were ringing for hours from the roars of the people lining the parade route.

It was a sea of red. Men, women and children wearing their Toews jerseys and Sharp T-shirts. There was more than one poster that read, "I love Niklas Hjalmarsson."

Kris Versteeg was atop the bus ahead of ours, and at one point as the parade turned north up Michigan Avenue with the noise deafening, Versteeg grabbed Antti Niemi and kissed his teammate on the top of the head. Swear.

"I am absolutely speechless," Versteeg said following the parade. "For the people of this city to rally around a team like this is something you could never dream of."

There were fans lining the streets when the buses pulled out of the United Center parking lot. The crowds grew deeper and deeper as the caravan headed east on Washington Boulevard. By the time we reached Wacker Drive the crowds were massive.

Blackhawks Nation was out in full force.

"Never expected anything like this," Campbell said.

Fans were running alongside the bus. It was hard to see through the blizzard of ticker tape. It was as if we were driving through canyons of people.

Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were the keepers of the Stanley Cup on the last bus and it was Kane who carried it to the podium through the crowd.

The stars spoke to the crowd. Versteeg rapped. And Kane poked fun of himself.

"I'll try to keep my shirt on all summer," he said, referring to those limousine pictures taken in Vancouver in January.

"And for all the cabdrivers out there. I love you," joked Kane, who was arrested last August after an altercation with a taxi driver in his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y.

The Hawks and the city of Chicago did it right. This was a celebration for the people, not some sterile Grant Park rally.

But that's what the Stanley Cup is all about. It's a trophy for the players, but also the people. Everyone wants to be around it. Everyone wants to see it. Everyone wants to touch it.

Unlike in other sports, where new championship trophies are made each year and handed out, there's only one Stanley Cup. And it's spectacular.

"You deserve this," Hawks president John McDonough told the crowd.

"With respect to the Stanley Cup, it's home and it's the place we want it to stay," chairman Rocky Wirtz said. "Thank you from the bottom of our hearts and we'll see you again."

As in next year.

tsassone@dailyherald.com

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