NEW YORK -- They came here in 1927 to greet Charles Lindbergh after his transatlantic flight, they came here in 1945 to celebrate World War II Allied Forces commander and future president Dwight D. Eisenhower, and they came here 40 years ago to welcome home Neil Armstrong and the other Apollo 11 astronauts after the first moon landing.
There is nothing like a parade up the Canyon of Heroes, where confetti and streamers fly from skyscrapers still, even though there is an ominous gap in the canyon this time, one that was not there the last time the Yankees were feted in this way in 2000. There is a hole in the sky where the World Trade Center towered then, but like baseball, a tradition goes on now and the parade keeps rolling along to mark one Yankees world championship after another.
This one on Friday was for a new generation. It was for all those kids who showed up with their parents around sunrise and waited in the cold with wide eyes. It was for George Steinbrenner, the owner who built this empire. It was for a blockbuster Major League Baseball season that needed a fitting end, something impossibly big and outrageous. It was one for the ages.
"It's like nothing I ever saw before," said Alex Rodriguez, a first-time champ who wore a fedora and gloves and stood beside Jay-Z on the ultimate pop-star float. "We've waited a long time for this. ... I've never seen so many people collected in one place. The excitement -- it just seemed like they were as hungry as we were. The fans really wanted this."
"You can't describe it -- you don't just see it and hear it, but you literally 'feel' it," added Lonn Trost, the Yankees' chief operating officer who rode with the Commissioner's Trophy in one of the lead vehicles. "The sound, the noise -- you look up Broadway and all you see are fans. It's a feeling you can't describe."
Trost said the Yankees "heard estimates in excess of two million" fans; other reports listed "hundreds of thousands." The city of New York was expecting around a million. Because neither the Mayor's office nor the NYPD were listing official estimates, there was a wide range, and one also had to factor in all those people looking through glass buildings at work the entire way -- one of the most breathtaking sights for those in attendance.
A parade is wherever your town is, special whether it is a charming Main Street event for locals or something of this magnitude, where Jay-Z performs "Empire State of Mind" one more time at the end. But honestly, this just felt like the definition of the word "parade." The swirling wind gusts whipped the flotsam paper everywhere, and it just seemed to keep coming, forever, like a relentless blizzard. The sanitation department estimated there would be 37 tons of it. Fans threw toilet-paper rolls like they were four-seamers, or in Mariano Rivera's case, cutters.
"It was up there," Rivera said of his fifth such parade ride. "It was wonderful, beautiful. The city of New York has great fans. You can't put it into words. It's magnificent. ... I never take it for granted. When I have the chance to do this, I thank God for that, because one day I won't be able to do that."
Rivera was able to do it this time because he threw the last pitch of the 2009 Major League Baseball season, a four-seamer on a tortuous 10-pitch battle against Philadelphia's Shane Victorino, who finally succumbed with a groundout to second. Now Rivera was the closer of this parade, the last float, and that was only appropriate. Hideki Matsui, conversely, was up ahead, the first player to receive the adoration, and sensibly so because he was World Series MVP. And if you are World Series MVP, then that means you led your team here.
If you talked to fans along the barricades while the parade was moving, you heard a constant theme: Everyone knew who was coming. How could you tell without scorecards or a monitor nearby? You could tell from the sound. You knew that Derek Jeter was a block away. You knew that Andy Pettitte was a block away. Ah, that familiar chant of "AN-DY PET-TITE! AN-DY PET-TITE!" Just as it was in his yeoman last inning of yet another series-clinching victory, so it was here on this day, in this famous thoroughfare.
"It's great," said Adele Connolly, 23, of East Village, before Jeter's float passed by. "There are a few lags, but with New York, you know a block away. Look across the street and you can tell that they can see who's coming across the way. Meanwhile, everyone around me is arguing about [reliever] Phil Hughes, and whether his performance was good. I saw he never had a real chance at redemption, and we wouldn't be in the postseason without him."
Still talking baseball.
"Hey, it's what we do!" she added. "We talk baseball all the time. We still will. It doesn't end."
This parade had an end, and a beginning. They always do. It started at Battery Park on the extreme southern end of Manhattan, just as it did for Gen. Douglas McArthur on April 20, 1951, back when Whitey Ford and the Yankees were in the process of repeating as world champs. Then it proceeded up Broadway to hang a right at City Hall, just as it did for astronaut John Glenn in 1962, just as it did in 1981 for American hostages released by Iran.
The ceremony was there at City Hall, with fans packed like sardines outside in what one officer called "controlled chaos." A crush of fans completely knock over a section of the City Hall perimeter fence right before the start of the ceremony. Then Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner spoke to the crowd, and so did manager Joe Girardi and Jeter.
"Nine years ... you forget. It's just incredible," Steinbrenner said. "A magical day, it's hard not to enjoy that. New York has the best fans in the world."
Fans roared for their heroes, and with each passing vehicle loaded with more anonymous club employees or extended family, they chanted, "Who Are You?" Joba Chamberlain was wearing a black turtleneck sweater on the chilly day, videotaping a crowd that was gawking at him. There were no questions now about his pitching role or his pitching performances. There was only this: Champion. He was here, a place where players on 29 other rosters tried to be but failed.
"The sight of all those people," Chamberlain said of the best memory. "Not only lined up on the streets, but also on the poles and in the buildings. All the people at work. It was pretty crazy."
How did his little boy like it?
"He was throwing the toilet paper back to people," Chamberlain said. "I don't think he really knew what was going on. I tape-recorded it, but he was just kicking the toilet paper on the ground, and throwing it back to people."
Chamberlain had a big brass key in his possession. He had received it from recently re-elected Mayor Mike Bloomberg at the City Hall ceremony along with the other Yankees. "I hope this unlocks something," Chamberlain said, pulling it out of the inside pocket of his jacket, "but I don't think it does."
No key was needed to unlock hearts of the fans who attended. Some of them began arriving as early as midnight before.
"I cried a little when I saw Matsui go by," said 19-year-old Bonnie Halbfinger of Manhattan. "He is my all-time favorite, but really you are here to see the whole team. It was amazing. Completely amazing."
She got here at 3 a.m. ET and was there with friends Jesse Smith and Vlada Keylin. They were cold. They were freezing. But they completely forgot their misery when the floats passed by.
Before the start, Miriam Melendez of Jersey City, N.J., was seen a block from City Hall with a homemade sign that read: "YEAH YEAH YEAH CHAMPS AGAIN -- 27TH AS ALWAYS -- TODAY IS MY BIRTHDAY -- THANK YOU FOR A GREAT PRESENT YANKEES." It was decorated with clippings of Yankees from the local tabs.
"I told everybody we were going to be here and in the World Series, and here we are. I had that feeling," Melendez said. Asked who she was hoping to see the most, she added: "All of them, but Derek Jeter is my No. 1, because he's handsome, good-looking."
Before long, the "handsome, good-looking" captain of the world champs came rolling by, wearing shades, standing next to sister Sharlee who was videotaping. In the crowd, one birthday girl -- 51 to be exact -- was running through a wall of spectators to follow Jeter's track toward City Hall -- and he obliged by smiling for her picture she took.
"Man, I love it," she said. "I really do. I was here for the [2008 Super Bowl champion] Giants, now for the Yankees. "Great birthday. I'm happy and I'm proud."
This is all about pride.
"A lot of people," Jeter said. "You never really realize how many people it is. Our fans are outstanding. It's been a long time.
"There might have been more people here this time. It's a long time ago. I don't really remember too well. It feels good. This makes it all worthwhile, all the hard work and 200-something games we played, how much support we have.
"You could do this every day and you wouldn't get tired of it. You feel like you're the president, you know? That's the unfortunate thing. You wish you could thank every single fan individually, but you can't. I know they know we appreciate it."
Jennifer Mussi of New York stood behind a large blue sign that said what Jeter was thinking. It said, simply, "THANK YOU."
That's what this was about. A chance for a sea of fans to thank their heroes. And a chance for their heroes to thank them back. It happens at the end of every year, last year Philadelphia, next year who knows. Maybe Chicago as a first Cubs parade in the lifetime of a fan there.
"I think there are some fans who expect world championships every year," Mussi said. "We were spoiled back then. It was a great season from Day 1, and I have a ticket plan and I was chasing Jeter while he was chasing [Lou] Gehrig.
"Derek Jeter is our generation. We grew up watching him. This is our time."
It was their parade, just like it used to be, maybe even bigger. It was at the same Canyon of Heroes where they celebrated the 1977-78 Yankees' title, where they honored Pope John Paul II in 1979, where they cheered for Howard Hughes in 1938 after his three-day flight around the world, where in 1921 they even honored a scientist: Albert Einstein.
This was exuberance. It was the true end of the baseball season.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.