PHILADELPHIA — Ken Blanchard knew it was going to be a special day, and he wasn’t about to be left out.
“Other than (marrying) my wife and (having my) children, this is probably the best day of my life,” he said.
The Drums man was one of many Northeastern Pennsylvania residents who found their way to Philadelphia on Thursday to celebrate the Philadelphia Eagles’ first Super Bowl championship, secured last Sunday in a dramatic 41-33 win over the New England Patriots.
Blanchard boarded a JZ Tours bus — one of five the company sent — early Thursday for the trip to the City of Brotherly Love. He then joined hundreds of thousands of other Eagles fans at the parade which worked its way up Broad Street and to the city’s famed “Rocky” steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
At the steps, a ceremony was held that included Gov. Tom Wolf, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and Eagles front office officials, coaches and players.
But it was Eagles center Jason Kelce who stole the show.
Dressed in an outfit honoring the city’s famed Mummers, Kelce gave voice to every frustrated Philly fan with a remarkable, impassioned and profane speech that had him defending the general manager, the coach and a litany of players who supposedly weren’t smart enough, big enough or talented enough to win a championship.
“We were a bunch of underdogs,” shouted Kelce, channeling Rocky Balboa himself. “Bottom line is we wanted it more!”
Blanchard and his friends tried to make it to the steps, which are in front of the Museum of Art, but finally gave up when the crowd became too thick.
Still, he was happy to be in the same city as the Super Bowl champions.
“I didn’t want to miss a piece of history,” he said.
Organizers prepared for as many as 2 million people, though city officials didn’t release a crowd estimate. No official estimate was released for the parade after the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, but experts have said that crowd likely didn’t exceed 750,000.
‘Once in a lifetime’
The area around the museum wasn’t the only crowded spot.
Fans young and old lined the streets as parents held their young children on their shoulders and college roommates shared beers while watching the Eagles make their way down the parade route.
Fans clad in Eagles green lined up 20 deep in spots to catch a glimpse of the champs, who rode in open-top, double-deck buses. Bundled up against freezing winds, some fans from New Jersey walked across the nearly 2-mile-long Benjamin Franklin Bridge just to get into the city.
“It’s once in a lifetime,” said Laura Gipple, of Danville, as she waited for the parade to step off about 11 a.m.
Gipple traveled to Philadelphia for the festivities with her father, Donald, a lifelong Eagles fan.
Both said they thought they would never see this day, but it was special to share it together. They said “it was a lifetime in the making.”
Matt Lukasik, of Dunmore, attends Thomas Jefferson University and was in the city when the Eagles won Sunday.
“It was amazing,” he said, adding: “It’s so fun to be here in Philly when history is happening.”
Schools, museums, courts, government offices and even the Philadelphia Zoo were shut down as the city celebrated an underdog Eagles team that few thought had a prayer of beating Tom Brady and his five-time world champion Patriots.
After the parade made its way toward the museum, parts of Broad Street opened up to foot traffic. People marched down Broad, chanting the Eagles fight song, taking pictures with City Hall in the background. Some residences along the route had homemade signs hanging from windows, with different sayings in support of the Eagles — or taking shots at Brady.
Sky-writing planes even sprawled the message “Philly Philly Dilly Dilly” across the sky, a nod to a viral Bud Light commercial that wished the Eagles luck in the Super Bowl.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.