ST. LOUIS — When you've waited 52 years for a Stanley Cup, what's several hours of braving thunderstorms to stake out a coveted patch of downtown sidewalk or Arch grounds grass?
"This is the biggest party St. Louis has ever seen," said Randy Sapienza, 36, who was below the Arch as the parade started. He estimated that the crowd on hand was larger than when the Cardinals won the World Series in 2011.
He said the attendance was a testament to the hunger and passion of area fans, describing St. Louis as a "great hockey town" filled with "diehards."
For Dan Munson, losing a night of sleep was not too big a sacrifice to get his 5-year-old son a front-row seat to history.
Munson, of O'Fallon Mo., had planned to arrive downtown at the crack of dawn Saturday when he heard on the 10 o'clock news Friday night that Kiener Plaza was already filling up.
So he left his sleeping wife to stake out a place on the sidewalk in front of Stifel Theatre at 11 p.m. Friday.
At first, it was him and his chair. As the night wore on, tents began to pop up.
By 3 a.m., Bob Pinkley had arrived from Crystal City with a crew of 15. By 9:30, about 30 friends and family members were huddled in the rain under his tan pop-up.
"We wanted to make sure we were on the front row to see the guys who won the cup. I've been waiting my whole life for this cup, said Pinkley, who was born in 1967, the same year the Blues formed.
By the time the parade started, the route and rally site under the Arch were packed with people.
Mark Robinson, of Kirkwood, got to the Arch grounds at 8 a.m. Saturday with his wife Susan.
"We want to be a part of it because I've been a Blues fan my whole life," Mark Robinson said. "We're also here to represent our kids who live out of state and expect us to be here. And we can send them pictures."
Robinson said the parade atmosphere was an extension of the watch parties — a shared experience.
"There was absolutely this sort of collective bond, where you were hugging people you didn't even know," he said of the playoff games. He added it was common to see older fans tearing up after the win, but said he could sense that younger people were also experiencing something they would remember "for the rest of their lives."
Leilani Hafley, 80, of Wildwood, made a beeline to the front of the crowd to try to take pictures of some players: the goalie and "that other guy."
In her excitement, she was briefly separated from her family. When reunited, the group figured out the other player's name: Ryan O'Reilly.
But all Hafley got for her trouble were pictures of other people taking pictures. Regardless, she was glad to be at the celebration in honor of her brother, who died five years ago.
"He was such a huge fan. He'd grab you in a head hold and beat you up (kindly) if they made a goal," Hafley said. By 1:30 p.m., her group was trying to leave the Arch grounds.
"She's not wanting to go back to the car," said daughter Debbie Hughes, 53, of Pacific.
Some crowding the Arch grounds said they felt a civic obligation to be there.
"If you live here, you should be here," said Katie Reasor, of St. Louis.
"It's something as a St. Louisan, you can't miss it — the parade, the celebration," said Tony Stephenson, 41, an analyst from Webster Groves. "The way the team played represented the city well. They work hard, they play hard, they party hard."
He then went in search of a beer near the Old Courthouse.
Securing a good vantage point near the rally stage, under the Arch, required dedication. Members of the Tejada family scouted the area last night, and then got there at 7 a.m. Saturday. They said the wait and rain were small prices to pay to "make sure we were here to cheer them on and say thank you," said Alice Tejada, 60, of Collinsville.
Other dedicated families were also wedged against a metal barrier near the stage. Cody Fulkerson and Amanda Grellner woke up at 5:30 a.m. to drive from their home in Linn, near Jefferson City. Fulkerson said he couldn't have envisioned this ending to the season, especially with the Blues mired in the NHL cellar in early January.
"I thought it was going to be a long season," he said. "It's a great story, even for young kids: Don't give up."
They said it was great to see the championship unify people, something on full display at Saturday's festivities.
"The energy is incredible," said Grellner, 47. "It's something that can bring people from all walks of life together. ... For St. Louis, I think that's something we need."