SEATTLE -- They came from miles, states, another nation away, filling up charter buses, commuter trains and hotel rooms on the bluest of Blue Wednesdays, as temperatures plummeted below freezing but football passions scorched hotter than ever.
They pulled their kids out of school, painted their faces and pets in team colors, flooded highways, streets and sidewalks, and screamed until their throats hurt -- all the while brandishing flags and placards emblazoned with that glorious, ubiquitous number.
Seattle's 12th Man -- as many as 700,000 strong -- mobbed downtown like a Legion of Boom gang tackle Wednesday, throwing its beloved Seahawks a victory parade and street bash befitting of world champions.
Along the way, the smiling and howling faces of those who everyone came for -- of Wilson and Thomas, Lynch and Sherman, of all of their triumphant gridiron heroes -- seemingly floated by and above them for two and a half miles along Fourth Avenue from the Space Needle to CenturyLink Field.
The Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks -- in a slow moving caravan of open-cab military trucks and amphibious Ride the Ducks landing crafts that launched nearly an hour late -- fist-pumped, candy-tossed and boogied atop vehicles as part of a celebratory "thank you" to the loudest fan base in professional sports.
Running back Marshawn Lynch, his eyes peeking from a black face mask, beat a drum and tossed Skittles into the crowd from the hood of a Duck vehicle filled with pom-pom-waving SeaGals.
Quarterback Russell Wilson thrust the front page of Monday's Seattle Times -- with its simple headline, "Champs" -- toward sidewalks stacked 20 people deep.
And cornerback Richard Sherman, the normally loquacious member of the team's infamously stingy "Legion of Boom" defensive secondary, didn't need to utter a single word.
Instead, he hoisted aloft for all to see the Vince Lombardi Trophy -- spoils from the Seahawks' 43-8 drubbing of the Denver Broncos on Sunday -- to do the talking for him.
And as the newly anointed champions rolled by, decades of dashed hopes and losing seasons seemed to evaporate.
Seattle's long-suffering fans were suffering no longer.
"This is history in the making," said Brian Tuck of Puyallup, a Seattle transportation worker who used a vacation day to take off work. "You got to be here and experience this."
Hordes of fans did. Seattle police's official crowd estimate eclipsed the city's latest Census count of about 635,000 by 65,000, easily making it the biggest street party in city history.
"I can't believe that many people came out and that many people got to miss work today," said defensive end Michael Bennett.
At least 13,523 Seattle public school students, about 27 percent of the district's 51,000 total enrollment, reported absent Wednesday. And of the school district's roughly 3,000 teachers, 565 called out, too, the district reported.
And scores of other students, teachers, parents and other fans from school districts and towns across Washington, British Columbia and throughout the Pacific Northwest, joined Seattle residents to celebrate.
"It was a no brainier," said Greg Good, of Kirkland, explaining why he and his wife pulled their kids, Jacob, 11, and Mya, 8, out of school to attend. "This is the opportunity of a lifetime."
At times, the crowd's cheering along the parade route was as deafening as any Sunday home game in the CLink. More than an hour before the parade started, Shane Hjelm of Kent stepped into the street in front of the Seattle Public Library and led a boisterous call-and-response to the crowd across Fourth Avenue.
"SEA-Hawks! SEA-Hawks!" he chanted.
At exactly 12:12 p.m., parade-goers unleashed an ear-splitting roar, complying with Gov. Jay Inslee's earlier proclamation for residents to participate in a "Moment of Loudness" for its team.
Bob Myers, 26, a self-described "die-hard, life-long Hawks fan," said he didn't even mind the parade ran more than an hour late by the time it reached him in Pioneer Square.
"This is the Seahawks rocking the world," he said.
Wednesday's party culminated with a slickly produced ceremony that packed some 50,000 fans, mostly season-ticket holders, into the CLink. Amid confetti and blaring music, the stadium's big screens recapped highlights from the Seahawks' season. Then, one by one, players were called onto the field, before some of them, along with coaches and other team officials, addressed the crowd.
"Our plan is to hopefully win another one for you next year," Wilson told the crowd.
Coach Pete Carroll added of the relationship with the Seahawks and its fans: "There's nothing like it anywhere else in the world."
Meantime, about 27,000 more fans filed into nearby Safeco Field to watch the ritual unfolding next door on the baseball park's mammoth video board.
Team owner Paul Allen's First and Goal covered the costs of Wednesday's parade and stadium rally.
In all, the party lasted more than three hours, but was 35 years in the making.
The last time Seattle celebrated a major professional men's sports title -- when the Supersonics won the NBA Championship in 1979 -- 300,000 fans converged on downtown.
Coach Lenny Wilkens, riding in a 1922 Chandler with Seattle Mayor Charles Royer, lifted a gold trophy into the air and fans swarmed cars carrying those now fabled Sonics players.
But such images are long-faded. WNBA's Seattle Storm won two championships, but a generation of Seattleites never has experienced such sports ecstasy for any pro men's team in a city that became the butt of a national joke about America's most miserable sports towns.
With its major league Mariners perennially wretched-to-mediocre, its Sonics now gone to Oklahoma City, and its pro-football team's only other Super Bowl appearance sunken beneath a sea of yellow flags and regrets, Seattle fans endured a three-and-a-half decade celebratory drought.
But on Sunday, with a resounding BOOM, the Seahawks wrote a new narrative for a far-flung city long shut-out of the championship party.
"We've waited for this for so long," said Nicole Probst, of Graham, who stayed overnight in a Seattle Center hotel to get to the parade early with her 16-year-old daughter and her mother.
Seattle police -- who called its entire force into work the event -- had reported few problems by Wednesday afternoon, but the celebratory ride didn't always roll smoothly.
By early afternoon, police announced emergency phone lines had been clogged as the downtown hordes had overwhelmed cell phone and internet signals.
Before the parade had even started, workers at a Starbucks near CenturyLink Field reported the store had run dry of mochas, sparking a barrage of Seattle jokes across social media.
And some parade-goers echoed a common frustration: They couldn't see.
When the parade finally reached them near Second Avenue and South Washington, the eight children between the ages of two and 11 with Stacy and Jen Baxter were cold and small in the midst of a block-deep crowd.
Some kids were lifted onto their parents' shoulders, provoking complaints from fans behind them.
"We're not going to see a thing," one fan yelled.
But most players and coaches stood in vehicles high enough for the crowd to see. Within about 15 minutes, all of the parade vehicles had come and gone.
"I waited a long time for that little bit," said Stephanie Christensen, who left her Gig Harbor home at 3 a.m. to catch a Bremerton ferry to Seattle.
Hours before it began, the party snarled major commuter routes for miles around the city, as traffic flooded into town.
Lanie Chilcote, of Port Orchard, waited in line for more two hours with friend Elaine Caires and three young girls, only to be turned away from two ferries in 22-degree weather.
"Hey, it's all right. We had fun," said Chilcote, still holding out hope of catching a later departure.
Using his cruiser's loudspeaker, a Bremerton police officer informed would-be ferry passengers still hopelessly waiting in line: "If you can't feel your toes, it's probably time to go home."
But mostly, the hordes who converged on Seattle Wednesday seemed to bask in their championship moment.
"Russell Wilson right in the street," fan Niko Wacker said of one favorite moment. "How cool is that?"
Written by Seattle Times staff reporter Lewis Kamb, with reporting by Katherine Long, Lynn Thompson, Emily Heffter, Alexa Vaughn, Jack Broom, Jennifer Sullivan, Brian M. Rosenthal, Christine Clarridge and Safiya Merchant contributed to this report.
(c)2014 The Seattle Times
Visit The Seattle Times at www.seattletimes.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services