CHICAGO -- They came by train, by car, by bike and by kayak. They lined the streets around Wrigley Field, Lake Shore Drive and totally overwhelmed downtown Chicago. City officials estimate 5 million Cubs fans, nearly all wearing Cubbie blue and many carrying "W" flags, celebrated the newly crowned World Series champions on Friday.
This party was for all the current Cubs fans giddy after a 103-win club snapped a 108-year drought, and for those who weren't here but helped foster their children's love of the team.
"I've been around baseball for a bit," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Never, never have I experienced anything like Wrigley Field on a nightly basis, never have I experienced anything like the conversations that I have with all of you when I run into you on the street. It's different, it's spectacular, it's comfortable, it's warm and it's the way it should be. I want to congratulate the fans and thank you for being so patient."
Patient? The last Cubs championship was in 1908, when the city of Chicago's population was about 2 million. The stars of that team were Mordecai Brown, Orval Overall, Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance. This year's stars included Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, Jon Lester and Ben Zobrist.
Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said that whenever he visited the Minor League affiliates, he would tell the young players they could be heroes someday.
"The men who are on the field when the Cubs win the World Series will not just be Chicago baseball players, but they are going to be Chicago baseball legends," Ricketts said.
A motorcade of more than 40 buses carrying the players and their families left Wrigley Field around 11 a.m. CT for a one-hour parade and were greeted by loud cheers from the start. They wound their way to Lake Shore Drive, heading southbound toward Michigan Avenue. Motorists going north pulled over to the far left lane to stop and wave.
"The amount of people here is mind-boggling," pitcher Jake Arrieta said as they traveled down Michigan Avenue.
It was the seventh-largest gathering in human history and the biggest in the Western hemisphere. The following is the top 10 largest gatherings:
1. Kumbh Mela pilgrimage, India, 2013 (30 million)
2. Arba'een festival, Iraq, 2014 (17 million)
3. Funeral of C.N. Annadurai, India, 1969 (15 million)
4. Funeral of Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran, 1989 (10 million)
5. Pope Francis in the Philippines, 2015 (6 million)
6. World Youth Day, 1995 (5 million)
7. Cubs World Series parade (5 million)
8. Funeral of Gamal Abdel Nasser, 1970 (5 million)
9. Rod Stewart concert, Brazil, 1994 (3.5 million)
10. Hajj pilgrimage, Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 2012 (3 million)
Nobody must have gone to work or school on Friday. By cosmic coincidence, many kids had an off day from school anyway. But for anybody who had class, here's guessing notes from parents or guardians would be unnecessary. The crowds shut down traffic downtown as fans gathered for a glimpse of their favorite players to take quick snapshots -- and the players reciprocated by taking photos of the fans.
"Way more people are here than I ever could've imagined," Game 7 starter Kyle Hendricks said. "This is wild -- we want to do it again and again."
Once the motorcade reached Grant Park, a video with season highlights, including the postseason games, was played, and a few of the Cubs players snuck out from behind the backdrop to peek at the sea of fans. Maddon called the event "Cubsstock."
"You'll remember this moment for the rest of your lives," Cubs radio announcer and emcee Pat Hughes said.
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein definitely will.
"One hundred and eight years -- ridiculous," Epstein said to the crowd. "One hundred and eight years of support, patience, love for this team, waiting for what happened two nights ago in Cleveland. I've been here for five years, and we've asked a lot of you and we've put you through a lot over the last five years. One hundred one losses, trading for players you've come to know and love for guys you've never heard of, trading 40 percent of the rotation three years in a row, asking you guys to follow the Draft and follow the Minor Leagues. ... You stayed with us."
Both Epstein and Ricketts said they have met numerous older fans who told them they wanted to live to see the Cubs win a World Series. Now they can celebrate.
The fans' support helped propel the Cubs through the tough times in the postseason, Epstein said. He also thanked Ernie Banks and Ron Santo for divine intervention and providing the rain delay at the right moment prior to the 10th inning in Game 7 at Progressive Field. It gave the players a chance to regroup.
"I was walking in the clubhouse and saw all 25 guys huddled together, shoulder to shoulder in the weight room, and instead of lamenting what happened and blowing the lead, they were picking each other up," Epstein said. "'We got you, we've got this, let's keep grinding, we're the best team in baseball, we're going to win this game, we're going to win it for each other, we're going to win it for the fans, let's go do this.' As soon as I heard that, I said, 'We're going to win this game.'
"We've all dreamed of this and this has exceeded our wildest dreams," he said.
The festivities included country singer Brett Eldredge leading the crowd in singing "Go Cubs Go," which is played after the team wins at Wrigley Field.
Rizzo presented Ricketts with the baseball from the final out, which he had tucked in his back pocket after catching the throw from Bryant on Wednesday. Rizzo and his teammates also had a chance for one more emotional goodbye to veteran catcher David Ross, 39, who is retiring after this crazy season. What a way to go.
Zobrist, named the World Series MVP, recalled how Ross inspired the Cubs when they were down, 3-1, in the best-of-seven Fall Classic.
"It was silent in that clubhouse, let me tell you," Zobrist said of the feeling after the Game 4 loss. "And then the man, the myth, the legend, David Ross spoke up. He said, 'No, don't do that. Don't hang your heads.' He said, 'We're the best team, we've come back, we've won three games in a row a lot this year and we're going to do it.'"
The next day, Rizzo was playing "Rocky" movies in the clubhouse and shouting out quotes from the films, which Zobrist said inspired him when he was growing up in Eureka, Ill.
"You better believe when he started that stuff up, I was pumped up," Zobrist said. "Sure enough, this team answered the bell. Games 5, 6, 7, it was like a heavyweight fight, and this ballclub pulled through for all of you."
And by the millions, the fans cheered.
These Cubs, beloved by so many generations of Chicagoans, have ascended to the top of the steps.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.