Shawn Dyson closed his barbershop and let his 10-year-old daughter skip school Tuesday, hoping they could become part of Baltimore sports history.
"When you have moments like this in your life, you've got to experience them," said Dyson, who's 49. "This is an epic moment for Baltimore."
Ravens fans called off work, skipped school and brought downtown Baltimore to a standstill Tuesday to welcome their Super Bowl champions home with an exuberant parade and victory rally.
The morning rush hour became a logjam as an estimated 200,000-plus people from across Maryland poured into the heart of the city, standing shoulder to shoulder before City Hall, lining both sides of Pratt Street and filling M&T Bank Stadium to capacity. Delays plagued the afternoon rush hour and stymied the light rail too, as demand overwhelmed the system and trains stopped altogether several times when fans broke through barricades and spilled onto the tracks.
Fans leaving the celebration also encountered a crime scene three blocks from the parade route. Three youths were stabbed, one fatally, at Howard and Fayette streets. However, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said, "It doesn't appear ... that it's connected to the Ravens parade."
In the morning, the traffic was so bad even the team had trouble making it to the celebration of Sunday night's dramatic 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. But fans, who haven't had a chance to party like this since 2001, said it would take more than traffic, wintry weather and professional obligations for them to miss this moment.
Long before the parade began, the rowdy throngs packed into War Memorial Plaza danced with Ravens cheerleaders to the team marching band and stadium favorites by Jay-Z, the White Stripes and Nelly. They waved shiny purple pompoms, mugged for national television cameras and screamed themselves hoarse.
Though they ended up waiting in the frosty air for more than an hour — the parade delayed so that the team could get there — impromptu Ray Lewis "squirrel dances" broke out, fans scaled flagpoles for better views and small children sat atop their parents' shoulders.
People pressed their noses to the windows of downtown office buildings, dangled signs and banners and, when they could, took to roofs and balconies.
"We've been with [the Ravens] when they've been bad. We've been with them when they've been good," said Bob Welck, 56, of Pasadena, who got to City Hall about 7 a.m. to claim a prime spot. "We wanted to make sure we were in the front. ... We stick with them."
One superfan, Tera Houser, a 34-year-old from Pasadena, drove 18 hours through the night from New Orleans to be there. When her husband insisted on going home to sleep, she said he was the crazy one.
When things finally started, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake told the crowd, "I want to thank all of you for your spirit. ... They underestimated us, but …"
"We won!" the crowd shouted in response.
When Lewis took the microphone, he expressed his love for Baltimore and held the Vince Lombardi Trophy up in triumph.
"Baltimore! We promised you we was going to New Orleans for one thing and one thing only," he said. "We told you all year: No weapon formed against us will prosper. This is the Ravens' year."
The crowd bellowed its appreciation.
"We love you, Ray," a woman yelled. "We love you!"
The feeling, apparently, was mutual. Lewis roared back: "Baltimore, I love you, forever and ever and ever and ever."
Ravens, many there with their wives, girlfriends and children, loaded onto floats, flat-bed trucks and military vehicles for the parade. Lewis was flanked by police on horseback to keep the crowds at bay.
As fans watched the players' every move, it was the ordinary people that mesmerized the Ravens, who held up phones to capture the roaring crowds.
Ed Reed, who took a turn holding the glimmering trophy, had a camera strapped to his wool hat. Before he got onto his parade vehicle, he walked the trophy along the barricaded sidewalks so the members of the crowd could touch it. They petted it like a puppy and rubbed it as if it held a genie. A few grabbed it as if they wanted to take it home themselves.
Mothers Melissa Albright, 45, and Heather Mendigorin, 39, said they didn't think twice about letting their children attend the parade. They consider it a history lesson. Super Bowl 101, perhaps.
"I'm so happy this morning and so happy we won," said Deborah Rodgers of Dundalk, who's 52 and brought a jersey to the parade that said, "Thanks, 52." She spent Monday painting her bedroom walls purple.
The hundreds of thousands of fans converging on downtown resulted in the Maryland Transit Administration experiencing "massive delays" on bus and light rail systems overwhelmed by demand and people crossing onto tracks.
"We put every available resource we had out on the system today, and the crowds were simply larger than the system could accommodate in the short time frame in which people were attempting to ride," said Terry Owens, an MTA spokesman.
Not far from the parade route, three youths, ages 15 and 16, were stabbed, one fatally. Police spokesman Guglielmi said the stabbing occurred about 1:40 p.m. near the intersection of North Howard and West Fayette Streets. He said one of the three victims went into cardiac arrest and was rushed into surgery at a nearby hospital, where he died. One was listed in critical condition; the other was expected to live. Guglielmi said the violence did not appear to be connected to the parade.
As the players' convoy inched through town toward the stadium, helicopters — including police crews — buzzed overhead. Several times along the parade route fans broke through the barricades and flooded onto the street to be closer to the Ravens.
Before the parade even started, it was all but impossible to find parking in lots surrounding M&T Bank Stadium. Officials had opened the gates to let fans in earlier than expected and the music was pumping by 9:30 a.m.
Seats had disappeared by noon. By 12:30 p.m. the stadium had reached capacity and no one else — even the thousands following the parade through town — would be allowed inside. Officials estimated at least 85,000 people packed the venue — possibly as many as 95,000 counting everyone standing and on the field.
Licks of flame and shots of smoke signaled the start of the stadium festivities. Cheerleaders ran onto the field waving golden pompoms. As the team management, coaches and players followed as "Where the Streets Have No Name" played and fans shrieked.
When Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Joe Flacco walked out, waving to the crowd and carrying his son in his arms, they played the dreamy oldie, "When You Wish Upon a Star." Perhaps it was a nod to the quarterback's whirlwind schedule since beating San Francisco Sunday night — Monday he held a news conference in New Orleans, flew to Disney World to mingle with Mickey Mouse and then jetted off to New York to tape "The Late Show" With David Letterman.
Lewis, who is retiring, came out last, gripping the trophy. He passed it off to someone before falling into what might have been his last dance at the stadium, working the crowd deeper into a frenzy with his signature moves.
Owner Steve Bisciotti thanked Baltimore for the fan support, for waiting so patiently for the celebration and for being the eternal underdog.
"I don't know how many more times we can do this," he said, "before Baltimore loses that chip on their shoulder. I hope that never happens."
John Harbaugh, hands in pockets, told fans their faith and zeal propelled the team to victory.
"We talk about the team. Look around," the coach said. "This is the team. This whole stadium is packed with the Baltimore Ravens team — together."
Baltimore Sun reporters Luke Broadwater, Yvonne Wenger, Kevin Rector and Justin George contributed to this article.
Baltimore has a history of turning out to celebrate its teams' accomplishments.
April 1954: An estimated 350,000 people turn out to mark the Baltimore Orioles' first home game. Vice President Richard M. Nixon throws out the first ball, as the Orioles beat the Chicago White Sox 3-1.
April 1971: An astronaut leads a parade to celebrate several sports teams with winning seasons, including the Baltimore Clippers (ice hockey), the Baltimore Colts (now the Indianapolis Colts), the Baltimore Bullets (later the Washington Bullets, now the Washington Wizards) and the Orioles.
October 1983: As the Orioles return to Baltimore after winning the World Series in Philadelphia, an estimated 100,000 fans pack downtown streets.
September 1995: After Cal Ripken sets a record for playing in 2,131 straight games, an estimated 300,000 Orioles fans gather downtown to honor the baseball legend. Another parade in Aberdeen, Ripken's hometown, draws an estimated 7,000 fans.
January 2001: Despite a cold rain, an estimated 200,000 Baltimore Ravens fans rally at City Hall after the team's first Super Bowl win. Gov. Parris N. Glendening is heckled at the rally and accused of being a Washington Redskins fan.
February 2013: At least 200,000 fans flooded downtown and M&T Bank Stadium to celebrate the Ravens' Super Bowl win.