Gonzo: A parade of emotions

Pat Burrell gets a thumbs-up during the Phillies World Series parade at Citizens Bank Park. The spectacle not only celebrated a championship; it fostered a sense of community.
Pat Burrell gets a thumbs-up during the Phillies World Series parade at Citizens Bank Park. The spectacle not only celebrated a championship; it fostered a sense of community.
Posted: November 01, 2008

The faces. When you ask people who were there, that's what they remember most about the 1980 parade - the glowing, thankful faces staring back at the players as the Phillies floats made their way triumphantly toward South Philadelphia.

Me? I'll remember that Chase Utley perfectly captured how the city felt when he addressed the fans from Citizens Bank Park.

"World f------ champions!" he screamed.

And everyone nodded. Exactly.

Before yesterday, I didn't fully understand the gravity of a parade. Partly because it was something I had never experienced, something that existed only in my imagination and yellowed newspaper pictures.

All that changed yesterday. It was finally in living color. Countless people were spread the length of Broad Street - all of them grinning wide. I waded into the crowd with my closest friends. We stood in front of the Kimmel Center, right in the shadow of Billy Penn.

Before the parade rolled by, we were treated to a fantastic pregame show. A fan wearing red underwear and a P on his chest (and nothing else) sprinted down the street. He was followed by a stilt walker. Both were applauded. So was the crew of 20-somethings who were pushing a shopping cart full of Miller Lite. At one point, someone appeared on Broad Street out of nowhere. He was wheeling a giant appliance on a hand truck. I think he was trying to make a delivery. Tough day for it.

Then, suddenly, flatbeds carrying the players parted the sea of red. Pat Burrell came first. He was with his wife, Michelle, and their bulldog, Elvis. Then there was Utley and Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels - all of them were cheered wildly. The Phillies' ownership cabal drove past, and someone held up the Commissioner's Trophy - the World Series award with all the pennants sprouting from the base. The crowd went mad.

All of it unfolded as multicolored ticker tape rained down against a cloudless, baby-blue sky. It was a marvelous mosaic - like Mardi Gras and New Year's and Halloween rolled into some new super holiday.

But it was more than the best party the city has ever thrown. There was an undercurrent of anticipation along Broad Street - as though everyone was about to experience their first kiss or down their first beer. It was a seminal moment.

My friends and I talked about the prospect so many times over the last 25 years, the echo of our conversations - theparade

theparadetheparade - could reach all the way back to 1983. That's what's so remarkable about what happened along Broad Street and all over the region. Everyone was filled with the same purpose - a great desire to bear witness to something they weren't sure was possible here.

In that way, the parade was equal parts spectacle and miracle, because it brought so many people together - united different ages and backgrounds. Perhaps that sounds overly maudlin or sentimental to those who weren't there. But if you were among the masses, I bet you felt the sense of community, too.

When I was going through the interview process at The Inquirer, one of the editors asked me to explain why a championship (or, rather, the absence of one at the time) was such a big deal to Philadelphians. He grew up in New York, and he's a sports fan, but he said he didn't understand the town's desperation.

It's a tough thing to put into words - why it means so much. In Philly, that kind of question borders on the existential. When my father was alive, all his free time and energy were exhausted on the city's sports teams. It remains that way for my family and friends.

Maybe that's irrational, but it's also true.

My buddy Ruzzi was at the parade yesterday. Like almost everyone I know, he was moved by the World Series win in a way that transcended sports. This is the story he told me recently. It does a far better job of explaining Philly fandom than I ever could:

"I went out to Vegas last January, and I bought my grandfather a ticket for the Phillies to win the World Series. I put $25 on them at 12-1 odds. He was really sick at the time, and I didn't think he was going to make it. When I got home, I gave him the ticket, and it was probably the last time I saw him smile. He died three days later.

"When he was buried, I made sure to put the ticket in his suit pocket for good luck. It's hard not to think that he helped the Phils out this year. This is for you, Pop."


Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or gonzalez@phillynews.com.

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