This was a city pouring out its heart to its football team, a city with a perennial chip on its shoulder telling the world how proud it was of what the Ravens accomplished in one of the greatest playoff runs in NFL history.
This was the biggest and loudest and most boisterous victory parade you've ever seen, a two-hour party through downtown Baltimore. It ended the way they'd script it in Hollywood, with the great Ray Lewis holding up the silver Vince Lombardi Trophy in front of a packed house at M&T Bank Stadium, doing that crazy "Squirrel" dance one last time and ending his glorious "last ride" after 17 seasons in a Ravens uniform.
Trust me, this one was bigger than the Orioles parade in 1983 when they won the World Series and a hefty Dundalk cab driver named Wild Bill Hagy rode atop a flat-bed truck, popped a can of Bud and led "O-R-I-O-L-E-S!" cheers along the whole route.
It was bigger than the Ravens parade in 2001 when they beat the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV and an estimated 200,000 fans ignored a cold rain and watched a mayor named Martin O'Malley flap his arms like a bird and thunder: "Ladies and gentlemen, our conquering heroes!"
This one was unbelievable.
Fresh off their thrilling 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens were welcomed home Tuesday in an emotional tsunami that stunned even the most-jaded veterans of the team.
"You know, I'm from New Orleans and we have Mardi Gras," Jacoby Jones, the wide receiver and kick returner, said when it was over. "And we have parades and people will be out there and you're like: Wow! But that right there? That was like [Mardi Gras] times 10!"
Where do you begin with the highlights of this wild afternoon?
How about Ed Reed, the Pro Bowl safety, walking along Commerce Street holding the gleaming Vince Lombardi Trophy in front of him for fans to touch, proclaiming it Baltimore's trophy and cackling as folks stroked it with wide-eyed wonder?
How about the fans lined up along Pratt Street six and seven deep, straining the safety barricades to touch the players until some of the barricades came crashing down?
"You imagine what it's going to be like," Torrey Smith, the second-year wide receiver, said of the afternoon, "and it's even greater than that."
But maybe the most astonishing sight of all yesterday was M&T Bank Stadium, with some 80,000 purple-clad fans shoe-horned into the joint when the Ravens arrived, the police turning everyone else away.
I looked around at one point and it was just a vast, unending sea of humanity. When the Ravens finally emerged from the tunnel, with smoke billowing and flames shooting in the air and Lewis doing his nutty last dance, you figured they heard the roar in Delaware.
"I've never seen anything like it," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I don't know if anyone ever has. This is just phenomenal. We have (cell phone) pictures of people scaling the outside of the stadium walls and trying to get into that second level, the stadium concourse, after they locked the stadium up."
He shook his head in amazement.
"We have a very determined fan base," he added, "just like we have a very determined team."
Inside the stadium, the parade morphed into something different, part season retrospective, part pep rally, the way you knew it would.
There was Steve Bisciotti, the gracious Ravens' owner, lauding the fans and saying he hoped Baltimore would never lose the chip on its shoulder, the one that seems to drive his football team, too.
There was Lewis talking about how much the Ravens believed in each other from Day One. There was Reed singing — maybe screeching is the better word — the refrain from the Eddie Money anthem "Two Tickets to Paradise."