BOSTON — Joyously exorcising superstitions that had endured for most of a century, more than 3 million Red Sox fans celebrated their team's first World Series victory since 1918 with a parade Saturday that twisted through city streets and splashed straight into the Charles River.
The crowd -- about half the population of the state and the largest gathering ever in Boston -- ignored a cold drizzle to begin lining the seven-mile parade route before daybreak.
Just after 10 a.m., amphibious vessels known as duck boats began ferrying the players like conquering heroes: brave warriors of the baseball diamond who had made their followers proud.
"We have all waited for this for such a long time," said Pedro Rodriguez, 36, who secured a prime spot near the Boston Public Library to watch the procession roll by. "We have had so many heartaches. And now, today, it all seems worth it."
Boston fans, after all, had dined on disappointment for 85 years. Each season, "Wait 'til next year" had been the tireless mantra of fans who refused to believe their team was cursed when owner Harry Frazee traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees after the 1919 season.
On Saturday, "Next Year Is Now" was one of dozens of euphoric slogans emblazoned on banners, badges and T-shirts. Dave Santangelo, 29, printed up a shirt that read, "Party Like It's 1918."
"This is such a release," he said. "We've been hanging on to hope for so long. With this win, we have lived the 'Rocky' movie. Every one of those cheesy comeback movies we have lived with this World Series victory."
Matthew DaSilva, 21, paid $10 for a shirt that screamed "World [Expletive] Champs." DaSilva said he planned to wear the shirt to class at a local community college.
"You bleepin' bet," he joked.
Along a parade route that started at Fenway Park, the oldest major league baseball park in America, the cheering was so loud that commuter trains rumbling by could not be heard.
Fans leaned off rooftops. They hung out windows in tall buildings. They jammed bridges closed off for the occasion.
The Red Sox faithful packed broad avenues, eight to 10 deep on both sides. In the city's financial district, they crammed tiny streets first laid out as cow paths more than 300 years ago.
"You'd have to live in New England to really understand what being a Red Sox fan means," said Lee Gustafson, 56, who came up from Connecticut with his wife Susan to take part in the celebration.
Gustafson, a UPS driver, got off work at 1 a.m. Saturday and arrived in Boston just after 4 the same morning. He said he was too elated to notice his exhaustion.
"This is heaven on Earth," he said. "You just have to be here if you are a Red Sox fan."
As the big, silly-looking duck boats inched down the streets, fans called out the players' first names, as if they knew each one of them personally. In turn, the 25 teammates waved and shouted and high-fived right back.
World Series MVP Manny Ramirez flourished a sign given to him by a fan. "Jeter is playing golf today," it read, a reference to the New York Yankees shortstop. "This is better."
Several of the players' wives waved brooms to symbolize the team's sweep of eight consecutive victories -- in the league series against the dreaded Yankees and in the Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. The sweep followed three humiliating losses to New York.
"When you look at this season, the way we were down three games against the Yankees, and then came back -- well, it just proves that no matter how bad things look, you can always overcome," said Leslie Martin, a 33-year-old Boston lawyer.
A massive police presence helped keep order while the parade was in progress. City law enforcement officials continue to smart from criticism that they overreacted almost two weeks ago when the team won the American League championship against the Yankees.
A 21-year-old college student was killed that night when police used supposedly nonlethal pepper gas pellet weapons to quell a minor disturbance near the ballpark. The incident is under investigation by police and by the district attorney.
On Saturday, at least 10 people were arrested -- many for public inebriation or for disturbing the peace. A dozen others were hospitalized for minor complaints, and 30 people were treated for minor injuries on the streets. A police spokeswoman put Saturday's crowd at 3.2 million.
As the duck boats waded into the Charles River, pitcher Pedro Martinez was hit by a ball thrown by someone in the crowd. Fellow pitcher Derek Lowe was unable to deflect the ball as it hurled toward Martinez, who was not seriously injured and continued to smile and wave the flag of his native Dominican Republic.
Julie Currie, 30, said she had virtually been holding her breath, waiting for this moment since 1986, when her father woke her up so she could watch her team win the final game the last time the Red Sox were in the World Series.
But the team lost, the story of Red Sox life for so many seasons.
Currie said she was not sure what she was thinking when she moved to New York and married a Yankee fan. So she drove up from New York and scouted a spot on Boylston Street at 4 in the morning.
"I had to be here to break the curse," she said. "And now, it is officially over."