White-haired Nancy Hill clutched a metal barrier on Staniford Street in Boston along the parade route yesterday morning with her grandson, an ear-to-ear smile stretched across her face as she basked in a lifetime of Celtics memories.
"I'm a basketball junkie, my husband used to say," recalled Hill, a spry 77-year-old who was wearing the jersey of her first Celtics hero, Bill Russell.
Rubbing the head of her 9-year-old grandson, Michael Dober, Hill clarified her remark: "I'm a Celtics junkie. And I'm thrilled, thrilled, thrilled."
She came to Boston as a bride in 1956, and the next year bought two $5 tickets to the Garden as a present for her late husband, Kevin. "And they weren't nosebleeds," Hill said. "They were good seats."
The couple were lucky: A new Celtics player named Bill Russell took the floor, and Hill was hooked. She has watched through wins and losses, glory days, and last-place finishes. She remembered a victory rally in the 1980s, following the players who road flatbed trucks from the Park Plaza Hotel to City Hall. "I was so young then, I climbed a telephone pole to watch," Hill said.
This year she followed the games on television from her home in Roslindale. She yelled at the screen and at times was too afraid to look.
So after 50-plus years, how does 2008 compare?
"Championships," Hill said wistfully, "are always wonderful."
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Michael Mullaley and his friend, Neil Carvin, were in their 20s, scooping up scalped tickets for Celtics games in the old Garden.
In 1986, after the Celtics beat the Houston Rockets, they decided to skip the victory parade, and instead made a pact: We'll be at the next one, the two of us, together. They figured the next victory would come in a year, maybe two. Not 22.
Watching the parade from a bench near the Park Street T station yesterday, Mullaley confessed that he's not nearly the fan that he used to be, sheepishly admitting that he left the Celtics when they got bad. He watched most of the playoff games, but often he only sees the fourth quarter now.
Mullaley pulled out his cellphone yesterday and sent a text message to Carvin, who lives in Los Angeles and couldn't make the parade, to let him know at least one of them was fulfilling their end of the bargain.
"Well," Mullaley said with a shrug. "It's an obligation."
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Yesterday morning, James Peters, a retired 79-year-old Army private first class, boarded the motorized scooter he relies on to get around, rode the T from Brookline to North Station, and got to TD Banknorth Garden in time for the start of the parade.
He followed the line of duck boats on his scooter, winding his way through the thick crowds clogging the sidewalks, but had trouble getting through the throngs of screaming Celtics fans. Around Cambridge Street, he saw an opening in the barricades separating the crowd and the duck boats, and he went for it.
He wheeled his scooter out on the street just behind a firetruck and began to follow the Celtics.
When an officer asked him what he was doing, he told him he was representing war veterans from West Roxbury. "That's a good cause," the officer told him, and he let him follow on the street, to the delight of the fans on the sidewalk.
"Everybody was cheering me and giving me high-fives," he said at the end of the parade in Copley Square. "This is great."
If the Celtics eke out another championship victory next year, Peters said, he will try to get on the route again.
"I've got some nerve, don't I," he said. "If you don't try, you'll never know."