Ben Roethlisberger, left, rides in the parade with backup quarterback Charlie Batch. 'Thank you guys so much,' Roethlisberger told the crowd. 'This has been a dream come true for all of us.'
PITTSBURGH - An estimated quarter of a million people - one of the largest crowds in Pittsburgh's history - clogged downtown arteries yesterday to honor the Steelers and their Super Bowl XL victory.
Clinging to lampposts, perched in trees, hanging out of office windows, crowded on parking decks and standing 15-deep in places along the 1.2-mile parade route from Mellon Arena to Gateway Center were people of every size, age and color, a true Steeler Nation that had endured 26 years of dashed dreams and unfulfilled prayers while waiting to celebrate the championship.
And celebrate they did.
Grandmothers unashamedly screamed out players' names as the 58-vehicle motorcade took two hours to navigate the route.
Grown men wearing the jerseys of their favorite players gaped and shouted as individual Steelers slowly moved past in the backs of chauffeured convertables, trucks and vans.
Children who had played hooky from school and painted their faces stomped their feet and waved homemade posters. "Feb. 5, 2006, The Best Day of My Life," read one, giving the date of Pittsburgh's 21-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks.
"This is a rebirth," yelled Elaine Hatton, 59, of Center Township in Beaver County, who said she had attended all four previous Steelers Super Bowl parades. This one was different, though.
"We died and were resurrected," she said.
There were seven high school marching bands, sheriff's deputies on skittish horses, motorcycle police, city vehicles with horns blaring and lights flashing, and cars filled with Steelers players, the Rooney family, coaches, broadcasters and politicians.
The Steelers players seemed to enjoy the show too, taking their own photos and videos of the scenes.
Antwaan Randle El flopped on his back on his car's trunk, reveling in the crowd's chant of "Sign Randle El! Sign Randle El!" referring to his pending free agency.
At the end of the parade route, Troy Polamalu took backward leaps three times off a sport utility truck into the crowd, bodysurfing the sea of raised arms.
Also in the parade were Gladys and Johnnie Bettis, parents of just-retired Steelers running back Jerome Bettis. Jerome Bettis carried the Lombardi Trophy.
"This is just the most incredible moment of my life," Mrs. Bettis said. "We knew winning the Super Bowl was big, but this is even bigger. I had no idea there were this many people in Pittsburgh."
City public works director Guy Costa estimated the crowd at 250,000, which would tie for the city's second-largest gathering. The biggest is believed to be the spontaneous outpouring of 300,000 people on Oct. 14, 1960, after Pirate Bill Mazeroski's ninth-inning home run won Game 7 of the World Series.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Steve Levin is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.