A giddy horde of hooky-playing, work-dodging New Englanders flooded the streets of downtown Boston yesterday for a Super Bowl XXXIX victory parade that, with all the city's recent sporting success, seemed more expected than extraordinary.
Roosting in trees, standing on snowbanks, and crammed 100 deep in some places, a crowd estimated at nearly 1 million by Boston police lined a 1Â½-mile route from the Prudential Center to City Hall Plaza to watch the New England Patriots roll by in a flotilla of Duck Tour boats.
The rollicking caravan was drowned in cheers from a red-white-and-blue sea of fans, many wearing Patriots jerseys and clutching video cameras. Coach Bill Belichick, riding in the lead vehicle and wearing his trademark sweatshirt, was flanked by owner Robert Kraft, vice chairman Jonathan Kraft, and vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli -- each holding aloft one of the team's Super Bowl trophies.
The parade attracted significantly fewer spectators than last year's estimated crowd of 1.5 million, but the fierce loyalty to a team that has won three of the last four Super Bowls was evident from beginning to end on an unseasonably warm winter day.
''It's a great time to be a sports fan in Boston," said Ben Mark, 18, a Needham High School senior. ''Everyone's jealous. You've got to love it while it lasts."
Less than four months after the world champion Boston Red Sox staged the biggest parade in city history after ending 86 years of disappointment, yesterday's celebration of New England's 24-21 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles had the feel-good karma of a long-running hit show.
Office workers sprayed champagne from windows, the crowds roared and chanted, and fans proudly held up handmade signs and banners with messages such as, ''We Put the Nasty in Dynasty."
Patriots players pointed back at the delighted crowd. ''This means more than anything in the world," offensive tackle Matt Light told the fans. ''You guys have been the greatest fans since day one. This is the best season of my life."
Other players flapped their arms, mocking the touchdown celebration of Eagles receiver Terrell Owens. Defensive end Richard Seymour held out his finger for fans to gaze at a previous Super Bowl ring. Tight end Daniel Graham and fullback Patrick Pass each held up three fingers -- one for each championship -- and then raised a fourth in a promise of more glory to come.
For a few lucky fans, players signed hats and balls thrown to them and tossed them back.
The third championship parade in a year went smoothly for a city that has had much recent practice. Police said afterward that 38 people had been arrested on charges that included open and gross lewdness, disorderly conduct, assault and battery, and indecent assault and battery. While police put the crowd at nearly 1 million, they did not explain how they computed their estimate. Unofficial counts were much lower.
The parade began before relatively sparse crowds near the Prudential Center but swelled to 50 and 100 deep near Copley Square and along Tremont Street from Boston Common to City Hall Plaza. Fans near Copley Square sat on mailboxes, office building rooftops, and the balcony of the Boston Public Library to catch a glimpse of their favorite players.
A howling swarm of teenagers lined the parade route -- some with permission from their parents and teachers, many without.
''Today's like our Mardi Gras," said Alex Zaccone, a 15-year-old freshman at Masconomet Regional High School in Topsfield, who skipped school to attend the parade with her brother and friends.
''Who could pass this up?" asked Robby Smith, 18, a Lexington High School senior, who drove in early yesterday morning with friends. ''Fifteen years without any championships and now four years with a championship," said Smith, while smoking a cigar at the corner of Tremont and West streets. ''Each one gets sweeter."
Catherine Goodine, a New Bedford native and longtime Patriots fan, was one parent who made the trek to Boston. Goodine, 46, took the day off from work at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth and let her daughter skip school to cheer on the players.
''The Patriots are my number one team," she said. ''Football's always been in my family. It's never-ending."
The only disappointment with the celebration seemed to be its brevity. It ran barely more than an hour and a half.
''We were standing out here for so long and it was so short, but at least it was better than school," said Jacquelyn Cayer, 16, a Mashpee High School junior who drove to Boston with six friends.
For local sports fans, parade-watching has become a ritual that includes a host of tricks to secure prime viewing spots.
Patricia Lojek, a 46-year-old Brookline homemaker, arrived at the Hynes Convention Center at 7:45 a.m. with her husband and two children to take her perch atop a 6-foot-high transformer on the Boylston Street sidewalk.
''Don't give away my secret spot. Say it's on a different street," Lojek said.
Many other early risers sat on newspaper vending machines and mailboxes, while fortunate shopkeepers took window seats.
Carlo Bordonaro, 23, of Malden, moved a huge Cingular Wireless sign and took its place in the display case with two coworkers who had switched their shifts to work during the parade.
''We've got our picture phones ready to go," Bordonaro said.
Employees at the nearby Bangkok Blue restaurant watched from the front window. But perhaps no workers had better spots than Mike Mobilia, 31, of Buzzards Bay, and Mike Grenier, 29, of Newton. The electricians, working on a hotel near the Prudential Center, drove a 15-foot-high lift to the parade site and towered over hundreds of fans.
''We'll watch the whole parade from here," Mobilia said, shaking off a request from an orange-vested co-worker to return to the construction site. ''There might be one person working."
Tina Ouellette, 31, didn't arrive from Northbridge early enough for a mailbox seat. But she found her own real estate atop a giant snow pile, where she held aloft a pink poster asking Tom Brady to be her valentine.
Ann Duruosi, an East Boston waitress, brought her 13-year-old son, Anthony, to the parade.
''I don't know anything about sports. These parades are just one of those traditions," Duruosi said. ''It's not a big deal to miss school. . . . Who knows when they'll win again?"
Mac Daniel and Tracy Jan of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents Benjamin Gedan, Janette Neuwahl, and Madison Park contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was also used.