TAMPA - On the streets of downtown, the crowds kept swelling. Police officers kept waving, "Back! Back!" But it did little good.
In the distance, they saw the flicker of light.
It was coming.
The thing they'd hoped for, prayed for and wished for over the last 12 years was coming.
The crowds pushed in tighter toward the middle of the street.
"I see the cup!" they screamed. "I see the cup!"
Through the crush of people, the convertible carrying Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk inched closer. Deputies walked at Andreychuk's side, and an armored police vehicle rolled behind him.
The closer it got, the harder the crowd pushed.
Fans ran up to it and reached out. They pressed against officers. One girl got her foot run over.
As Andreychuk turned the corner by City Hall, he lifted Lord Stanley's Cup overhead and the crowded erupted again.
It was 87 degrees and humid. But no one cared. They had seen and felt and smooched hockey's top prize.
It began calmly. In the morning, Mayor Pam Iorio had to settle a bet with Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier. A year ago, Iorio knew little about hockey.
"Icing," she remarked to an aide. "That used to be something you put on cakes."
Wednesday, she took a call from Bronconnier to accept the city's prize of Canadian sausages, chocolates and three cases of Big Rock beer for beating the Flames. Iorio didn't know what to do with the booze.
"The beer is a problem at City Hall," she said.
Outside, it looked like Gasparilla. Only more sober.
Many in the estimated crowd of 20,000 came in their Sunday best: dress shirts, pressed slacks and Polo shirts. Some came in bathing suits. Others played hooky from work. They sat in electric wheelchairs and picnic chairs shaded with multicolored umbrellas. They carried inflatable replicas of the Stanley Cup. They wore construction hats with red emergency sirens - the sign of a puck in the net.
Sean Davis' black Lightning jersey with the lettering Evil 00 reflected the team's dismal past.
"We never scored," he said. "Evil reflects my rage at the fact we never scored and being the biggest joke in the league."
Such a joke, he said, that in the old days, the song All By Myself blasted through the arena speakers.
Elizabeth Croft stood at Channelside Drive and Florida Avenue with a hot pink poster that read BOLTS, with the phrase: Brought Home Lord Stanley to the Sunshine State.
"We did it . . . during work hours," she said.
Her boss, Jerry Trabucco, didn't mind. He and Croft were playing hooky while the rest of the staff at DeAngelo Bros. in Riverview slaved away.
On Morgan Street, Gaye Ficarrotta, 43, carried a sign that read: "I love my hubby, but I really love Habby."
Need proof? She left her children - ages 3, 6 and 8 - at home with her husband.
"He wears the pants, but I carry the hockey stick," she said.
Ally Baldwin, 16, rushed up to Martin St. Louis' convertible for an autograph. "You are awesome," she told him.
Just then, a tire on his car rolled over her foot.
"It hurt really bad, but that is not important," she said.
She had talked with St. Louis, and it was dreamy.
After the parade, fans filled the lower bowls and rink floor of the St. Pete Times Forum. On the TV screens overhead, the best goals of the playoffs played over and over again. Each time, the crowd grew louder. The players waited in the tunnel, hearing the momentum build.
Finally, they came on stage and hoisted the Stanley Cup, again and again, drinking it in.
Lightning General Manager Jay Feaster jumped up and down, then turned to the players.
"Fellows, when we are done - we are getting fitted for rings!"
The crowd erupted. They screamed "MVP! MVP!" when St. Louis spoke. They shouted "One more year! One more year" when Andreychuk came to the podium. Someone yelled "Vinny! You're hot!" when Lecavalier took the mike.
When the speeches were over and the balloons had burst from the ceiling, a crowd lingered to look at the cup on stage one final time. So many people had kissed it that it was smudged.
Outside, people guzzled 24-ounce Budweisers to beat the heat. Eddie Money played on stage. People waved and danced to the song, We've waited so long.
- Staff writer Shannon Breen contributed to this report.