Tens of thousands of cheering fans gave the University of Connecticut men's basketball team a group hug Saturday during a victory parade through downtown Hartford.
A tidal wave of applause erupted along the parade route when a flatbed trailer carrying the national championship team pulled out onto the street at 11:45 a.m., the 65th unit in the procession.
``This is the joy of my life,'' Cynthia Woodberry of Middletown said as the team passed her on Trinity Street. ``He looked at me and I got him. Hamilton. Richard Hamilton. I got three pictures.''
Woodberry sported the look of the faithful: UConn hat, shirt, blue-and-white pompoms and a little camera, held overhead, pointed at the players.
``They tried to get me to work a double shift today but I said no. I got me a date with the parade,'' she said.
At least 175,000 people crammed into the city for the parade, police Lt. Anthony Camilleri said. State Capitol police said between 250,000 to 270,000 people turned out.
The only serious incident occurred about 12:40 p.m. on Main Street when a 6-year-old girl from Wethersfield bolted into the path of a police motorcycle.
The girl was listed in fair condition in Connecticut Children's Medical Center with cuts and abrasions. She was being held overnight for observation, Camilleri said.
Marching units came from all over the state to help celebrate the team's clinching of the national title on March 29 when UConn beat Duke, 77-74.
Fans continuously rushed the team's trailer, slowing it at times to a crawl, despite the best efforts of an escort of police on motorcycle, horseback and foot. Many people tossed souvenirs to the team to sign and toss back.
``To see so many people on the streets of Hartford, cheering for us, that was incredible,'' head coach Jim Calhoun said later at a post-parade press conference. ``The moment that stood out for me was when we went through the arch by the Capitol and saw all those people and all those signs.''
At the parade's end, Gov. John G. Rowland said the team that ``shocked the world didn't shock us because we knew you could do it.'' Rowland told a cheering crowd of thousands of people in front of the Capitol building that the state will sell new UConn championship license plates to honor the team's accomplishment and raise money for University of Connecticut scholarships.
Afterward, players said the thrill of being honored by so many people was a once-in-a-lifetime memory and a little surreal.
``It's wonderful,'' said Edmund Saunders of Waterbury. ``I saw so many friends from home in the crowd. Now it'd be good to just go on with our lives.''
But that wasn't possible for the team on Saturday.
Hundreds of people held up cameras to capture the parade for posterity. Overhead, three news helicopters hovered over the gold domed Capitol, filming the scene.
Nick Coscia of Waterbury schmoozed his way onto a float to film the parade for public access television back home. This film would be the biggest event ever filmed by public access and will be shown today on a continuous loop, he said.
High school bands, fife and drum corps, youth groups, a steel drum symphony and floats from businesses and organizations all got cheers along the 2-mile route.
``I'm ecstatic to be here,'' said Joseph Faraone, drum major of the New Britain Golden Hurricanes, the city high school precision marching band. ``It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to lead us in this kind of parade.''
The band from Hartford Public High had one thing no other marching unit had: an electric bass player pumping out the bass lines with the help of an amplifier and battery pack wheeled alongside on a cart.
``We lost our tuba player, so we have this for that part,'' band director Julius Prescod said of bassist Colin Baker.
A few units away, Everald Thompson of the West Indian cultural center wore an angel costume, complete with 6-foot gossamer wings and a wild, silverly headdress. He prayed the wings would stay in place while he danced on the wind-swept parade route.
Many fans exhibited two traits: screaming until they were hoarse and wearing anything that said ``UConn'' and ``Huskies.'' Spontaneous chants would break out on sidewalks, with opposite sides taking turns.
Steve Arsenault had the full Superfan outfit: UConn hat with Husky mascot figure in front and school-color blue and white streamers in back. A UConn baby bib around his neck. Snowshoe-sized blue foam rally mitts on each hand. A UConn T-shirt. A UConn cape across his back. And a 200-watt smile.
``I got a lot more stuff at home,'' said Arsenault, 27, of Vernon. ``I couldn't sleep last night. About 1 o'clock this morning, I thought about driving into Hartford to figure out a good place to park. If I missed this, I'd be so miserable.''Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun