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Capitals' Stanley Cup parade in Washington is a mass gathering for the giddy

Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin holds up the Stanley Cup during a victory parade in downtown Washington on Tuesday, June 12, 2018.

LAUREN KING/STARS AND STRIPES

By STEVE HENDRIX | The Washington Post | Published: June 12, 2018

WASHINGTON — Multitudes - a multitude of multitudes - of long-starved Washington sports fans inundated the city Tuesday in a spasm of civic ecstasy that had become a faint memory for older residents and unknown to the young: hailing a champion in one of the big four professional sports.

An immense spring tide of red - Capitals jerseys, towels and signs - that began to build before dawn had swamped a dozen blocks of downtown Washington. By parade time, tens of thousands were jammed shoulder-to-shoulder simply to be with their joyous hockey team, their well-traveled trophy and their disbelieving neighbors, a mass gathering of the giddy, Community with a Capital C amid a Capitals Sea.

On a sunny day that was still cool enough for the comfortable wearing of thousands of hockey jerseys purchased in recent days, the Washington Capitals capped a dizzying stretch of celebration that began the moment they clinched their first Stanley Cup and the city's first major sports title in 26 years.

"Now we can celebrate all together and remember this moment for all our lives," team captain Alex Ovechkin, who has sported a permanent gap-toothed grin for days, wrote on Instagram on Monday afternoon. "Time to party caps fans!!!!"

At the parade, Ovechkin hoisted the cup to display to the delirious from the top of an open-topped double-decker bus, two of which carried the team down the route with an escort of motorcycle police and kilt-wearing bagpipers. Some players nursed beer bottles as they waved, emitting and absorbing love decades in the making.

Mayor Muriel Bowser, in a Caps jersey, tossed parade trinkets from one of the buses. Government agencies including Washington schools and the Pentagon took part, with the roar of fighter jets and marching bands adding to the bone-shaking cheers along the way.

A Dalmatian howled from the top of a Clydesdale-drawn beer wagon. Cars nearby honked to the beat of an ambient "Let's Go Caps" chant, a Zamboni drove down a city street and lightposts were adorned with new banners. D.C. police sent a mass alert to residents by cellphone that the parade had begun.

Metro planned to run on a rush-hour footing all day to accommodate the crowds that poured from downtown stations in great red gushers. But many fans were in place before the first trains rolled. Justin Bryam, a 23-year-old from Frederick, Maryland, was ready to rock the red at the rally stage before dawn. Ready to expunge years of frustration with a full day of joy, he drove in Monday night, crashed with a family member, was in an Uber by 4:45 a.m. and arrived at the Mall around 5. And he wasn't the first.

"It was still dark. Cold and dark," he said, looking out at a crowd that had grown by thousands behind him. "To see this city come together and embrace hockey is just unbelievable to watch."

The scene included the Caps faithful, who have been waiting for years for such a parade, and bandwagon-jumpers by the thousands. Office workers dodging their morning meetings lined the route alongside pilgrims from up and down the East Coast. Whole swathes of springtime tourists were surprised to find themselves part of celebration that was more about the people of the city than its status as the seat of the federal government.

Annelie Enstjaerna, 50, and her family arrived from Stockholm on Friday and were taken aback by the size and exuberance of the capital city, transformed for now into the Capitals' City.

"It's very American," Enstjaerna said, comparing the brash bacchanal shaking the corner of 17th and Constitution to the lower-key celebrations in Sweden. "This is huge."

What exactly have they won? she asked.

The Stanley Cup, she was told.

And there it was, in the midst of it all, towering and gleaming and seemingly undented from the journey it had taken from Vegas to the top of a parade bus, through the locker rooms and nightclubs and cookouts, passed from player-to-player and gripped with desperate relief.

The Washington Post's Michael  Ruane, Adam Kilgore and Roman Stubbs contributed to this report. 

Capitals players hoist the Stanley Cup during the victory parade Tuesday, June 12, 2018 in downtown Washington.
JONATHAN NEWTON/THE WASHINGTON POST

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