CHICAGO – Thirty minutes before the Stanley Cup passed down Washington Street, hoisted over the head of Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, Josh Johnson and Dave Lucas steadied a pair of 6-foot ladders in the middle of LaSalle Street and waited.
The two union pipe-fitters had been on the clock for only a couple of hours Friday morning, but had planned all morning to take one of their "union-mandated" breaks just as the Hawks' victory parade made its way from the United Center to Grant Park.
Johnson and Lucas sat elevated behind a frenzied crowd that stood 10 rows deep behind police barricades. Those in the front rows had been there for hours, willing to wait to have the best view of the day's festivities. As children sat perched on their father's shoulders and girlfriends gained a better vantage point on those of their boyfriends, the two Admiral Mechanical Services workers relished their prime parade-viewing seats.
"This is insane – absolutely insane. It's like Christmas," Johnson said. "Our bosses have no idea what we're doing.
"If they find out, we'll probably get fired."
They likely weren't alone in having their work interrupted on a day when Chicago celebrated its second Stanley Cup championship in four years. Thousands of fans, decked out in Hawks sweaters, Stanley Cup championship T-shirts and other red-and-black-themed outfits, crowded along the parade route to get a glimpse of their hockey heroes.
One by one, buses carrying Blackhawks players and coaches passed by as red, black and white confetti dropped from nearby buildings and echoes of Queen's "We Are The Champions" echoed off an upper deck of Chicago's City Hall building.
Commuters, including those from McHenry County, flooded trains from Chicago's neighborhoods and suburbs, all wanting to share in the Hawks celebration, which came four days after the Hawks clinched the Cup in a 4-2 series win over the Boston Bruins.
Some fans carried Stanley Cup replicas, some purchased off the Internet, while others were handmade, fashioned crudely out of rolls of aluminum foil. For Savo Cucuz, who made the drive in from Merrillville, Ind., simply clutching the miniature Stanley Cup he paid $150 for seven years ago, made him a popular target for fans wanting to get photos taken with hockey's most cherished prize.
"This is amazing – I've never been around this many people in my life," Cucuz said. "But people are always coming up asking for pictures. I had this at the White Sox game with me the other night and everyone wanted a photo. Kids, people offering to buy me beers for a picture."
Back on the corner of Washington and LaSalle, Johnson and Lucas were routinely asked to take photos from their ladders, giving fans trapped behind big crowds a better chance of capturing the celebration as it happened.
"We're going to start charging $1 a picture," said Lucas, the brainchild behind the ladder scheme. "That way, at least we can buy lunch."
By 11:30 a.m., when the team's rally began in Grant Park, fans roared as Hawks players were introduced, culminating with Toews, who clutched the Stanley Cup with two hands over his head. Toews, who, like many of his teammates, was part of the 2010 celebration, said he didn't think it was possible for fans to match the level of enthusiasm they exhibited three years ago.
"You guys did it – somehow," Toews said. "This shows how unbelievable this city is."
As fireworks blasted into the air and the Hawks anthem, "Chelsea Dagger," filled Grant Park, young fans danced, celebrating an achievement players said was hard to believe they did again so quickly after winning the 2010 Stanley Cup. This year's run came after the Hawks came back from a 3-1 series deficit against Detroit in the Western Conference semifinals before defeating Los Angeles and Boston to finish atop of the hockey world again.
"We're just so glad we can bring this to the great city of Chicago," Hawks winger Patrick Sharp said. "In 2010, you guys [had] waited 49 years to do this. This year, we waited three. What do you say we get back and do it again next year?"