It rained on the St. Louis Blues' parade, but nobody seemed to mind.
Hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets of downtown St. Louis and braved the rain Saturday to cheer on the Stanley Cup champs, who concluded the festivities with a packed rally beneath the Gateway Arch.
The Blues ended one of sports' longest championship droughts Wednesday by beating the Boston Bruins 4-1 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, the first title for a franchise that joined the NHL 52 years ago.
The long-awaited championship stirred strong emotions in St. Louis, a city still smarting from the departure of the NFL's Rams in 2016. The loss of the football team seemed to strengthen fans' bonds to the Blues and their beloved baseball team, the Cardinals.
"I'm so happy for the city and the fans here,'' Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. "They deserve it. But more than anything I'm so happy for our players, because of how hard they've played, the character and leadership coming through, winning that Cup.''
Among the masses were NHL Hall of Famer Brett Hull, actor Jon Hamm and superfan Laila Anderson, who is battling a life-threatening autoimmune disease and served as a good-luck charm during the postseason run.
"I'm just glad I could help them," Anderson said. "I don't know what I do, but I'm just glad the whole city supports me so much."
Ryan Korte, a 56-year-old letter carrier from the St. Louis suburb of Belleville, Illinois, said he wasn't sure he would ever get to see the Blues win the Cup.
"I was starting to wonder," Korte said as he waved a towel while standing on a ledge, straining to see the parade. "A lot of disappointments. They've had some good teams, and they always let us down."
Not this time.
"This is bigger than the World Series," Korte said.
That may sound strange in St. Louis, which has long been considered a baseball haven thanks to the Cardinals' 11 World Series titles. It sure looked like a hockey town on Saturday, though, as fans shouted, "Let's Go Blues!" and danced to "Gloria," the 1982 Laura Branigan hit that became the Blues' unofficial victory song.
"These guys won the Stanley Cup for this city!" Hull said. "There is nothing more they have to do! So instead of saying, 'Let's Go Blues,' we're gonna say, 'We Went Blues! We Went Blues! We Went Blues!'"
O'Reilly: Winning title 'still hasn't sunk in'
Ryan O'Reilly reflects on winning the Stanley Cup title with the Blues during their championship celebration.
Forward Ryan O'Reilly, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP, carried the Stanley Cup to fans lining Market Street to let them touch it.
"I was saying this earlier during the parade ... I said this is a city of amazing hockey fans, amazingly nice people, and amazing drinkers as well," O'Reilly said. "They can handle their stuff. It's awesome; I love it."
"The Blues have an amazing fan base," said Michael DeHeer, 52, of St. Louis. "This place is ready to explode."
It has been quite a journey since the Blues joined the NHL in 1967 as one of six expansion teams that year that doubled the size of the league. The original six teams were kept in one division, and the six new teams in another, ensuring that an expansion team would play for the Stanley Cup.
The Blues loaded their roster with aging veterans, and it paid off: They played for the Stanley Cup in each of their first three seasons. They didn't win a game, though, going a combined 0-12 in those three series.
What followed was a 49-year stretch in which the Blues didn't make the Final -- a drought made even more remarkable because the team missed the playoffs only nine times during that span.
This year's season didn't start out promising, as a sluggish start got coach Mike Yeo fired in November.
Berube took over as interim coach -- a title he still holds, though the interim tag is expected to be lifted soon. Improvement didn't come immediately; the Blues were last in the standings on Jan. 3, the middle of the season. Days later, an unheralded rookie goaltender named Jordan Binnington was called up. He won his first game in a shutout.
Soon, with Binnington taking over as the lead goalie, the Blues went on a franchise-record 11-game winning streak and stayed hot through their playoff run.
Binnington, known for his calm demeanor, finally let loose Saturday.
"You want to see some f---ing emotion?'' he asked the rally crowd. "We're Stanley Cup champions, baby!
"This has been an incredible day. There's thousands of people out here -- and you guys have waited a long time, so this is incredible. Thank you for sharing this with us."
The Blues joined a list of other sports franchises to recently end long championship droughts. The Chicago Cubs' win in the 2016 World Series ended a 108-year run of futility. The Philadelphia Eagles won the 2018 Super Bowl, their first championship in 58 years. Last year's Stanley Cup winners, the Washington Capitals, won for the first time since joining the NHL in 1974.
"It's awesome; I've never seen anything like it in my life," Berube said. "Best fans in the league, for sure. I mean, what an incredible experience to be down here today in the parade; it's unbelievable. I'm so happy for the city and the fans here; they deserve it. But more than anything, I'm so happy for our players, because [of] how hard they played, [the] character and leadership coming through, winning us a Cup."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.