DOWNTOWN – On a Saturday afternoon in June, hockey took center stage in St. Louis, with a guy in a bear suit (Louie the mascot) and a marching band leading a parade that has been a dream to most fans here for upwards of half a century. That dream: a Stanley Cup victory parade down Market Street.
On this day, it arrived.
It came complete with the cup itself being hand-delivered by playoff MVP Ryan O’Riley and team captain Alex Pietrangelo bringing the Stanley Cup itself to the fence line for fans to touch. Pietrangelo even helped one wide-eyed boy raise the trophy over his head, just like his idols three nights before.
“I’m just so happy for everybody that’s always been a Blues fan because there are so many people, 52 years, that have not experienced this,” Jamie Seitz said as he watched the joyful explosion unfold. “Just to see it, it’s unreal. I don’t believe it still.”
St. Louis city officials were anticipating a crowd in the neighborhood of half a million people. Fans and city leaders alike called the crowds unprecedented.
No estimates were made available Saturday, but there was nothing about the scene on Market and in the Arch grounds to indicate that number was inaccurate.
“Had the Cardinals in ’06 and ’11, but nothing quite compares to this,” longtime fan Dave Rocco said. “This is awesome.”
“It was crazy,” Monta Melvin chimed in. “I’m not gonna lie. I’ve waited my whole life for the Blues to go.”
And go they did, in a way that no one anticipated and many had begun to question would ever happen at all. Fifty-two years of disappointment breeds cynicism, and many along the route admitted to having succumbed to it, especially when just six months earlier the St. Louis Blues owned the worst record in the National Hockey League.
“I’m saying, ‘You’re out of your mind.’ I don’t think I’d have ever believed it,” Eric Siebelspath said. “I don’t think I ever thought I’d see a Blue lifting that cup.” Asked if he had thought it might never happen, he replied, “I was starting to wonder after all those years. Since 1971 when I was born? We never got this close. It was unbelievable.”
“Long time coming,” Rocco said, echoing the sentiment. “Got close a couple of times. ‘Eighty-six, and a couple of years ago, I thought they were going to do it, but this year they finally did it. It was awesome.”
The reality set in further as players passed by, some taking selfies, and, of course, the pair with the cup letting children in the front place their hands on the iconic trophy.
“Well, my daughter just touched it, and so it’s really real. It’s just incredible,” Seitz said.
Incredible like the scene on Market, where rain was expected but never fell on the parade route. Where icons of the past with names including Hull, MacInnis and Plager received louder cheers than many of the current players. Where a fan base that for 52 years felt it could never catch a break, finally had reason to believe the tide had turned in their favor.
“We’re here to stay,” Melvin said. “We’re gonna win it next year and the year after that! We’re here forever, man, I’m sorry.”
“It’s beyond expectations,” Seitz added. “This is St. Louis right here. This is it.”