After 86 years of legendary heartbreak, long-jilted Red Sox Nation found sweet release yesterday in a massive victory parade that turned crowded old Boston into a canyon of deafening euphoria.
Millions of people, the largest crowd ever to gather in the city, cheered their heroes by land and by water in a sustained howl of joy that stretched from Fenway Park, through downtown, and onto the Charles River in Duck Tour boats.
The world championship team, giddy and playful, responded in kind. Pedro Martinez danced. David Ortiz pointed at fans. Johnny Damon flashed the peace sign. Keith Foulke videotaped the spectacle. And Manny Ramirez held a fan-written sign about shortstop Derek Jeter of the archrival New York Yankees.
''Jeter is playing golf today," the sign read. ''This is better."
The drizzle-spattered route featured delirious cheering, ear-to-ear smiles, and outstretched hands. The crowd jammed shoulder-to-shoulder, sometimes as many as 100 deep, behind 30,000 feet of steel barricades along the 3-mile land route.
But despite the unprecedented numbers and a mass transit system stressed to the limit, the parade proceeded smoothly. By early evening, only 20 arrests had been reported.
Gone, it seemed, were the frustration and resignation of 86 seasons past. The emotion of the day was full-throated exhilaration, and none of the fans were holding back.
''All is Forgiven" read a sign held on Cambridge Street by Army Lieutenant Colonel Al Bazzinotti, 42, of Dedham. Bazzinotti and Todd Darling, 42, of Charlton, kept a pact they had made 10 years ago to celebrate a world title.
They attached two brooms to the sign, which they toted up and down the street, to symbolize the four-game World Series sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals.
The parade route was lined with screaming fans from its beginnings near Fenway Park.
They stood 20 deep on the sidewalks after the 10:15 a.m. start, swelling to 50, 75, and 100 deep as the motorcade crept past the Prudential Center, Boston Common, and Government Center. The effect was peaceful pandemonium.
Fans stood on rooftops, climbed traffic lights, leaned out of high-rise apartments, and sat on windowsills to improve their view. The throng spanned all ages, as infants in strollers and grandparents in wheelchairs found places in a bobbing sea of red.
''My Dad lived for this," a sign read near the foot of Charles Street. The poster, which included a picture of the fan's father and his lifespan -- Nov. 26, 1925 to March 10, 2004 -- poignantly encapsulated the deep, cross-generation bonds that bind the team to New England.
''Our (late) parents and grandparents thank you," another sign read.
Pauline and Peter Lorden of Shrewsbury, who watched the parade near Park Street Station, said the experience was bittersweet.
For much of the last week, they said, each has thought about how happy the world championship would have made their deceased fathers. ''It's emotional," Peter Lorden said. ''I really wish he was here to see this."
Late yesterday afternoon, police said they had reports of 63 injuries, 20 requiring a hospital visit. Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who watched the parade near Tremont and Boylston streets, praised the crowd's good behavior.
The city estimated the crowd at 3.2 million, based on the depth of the crowd and the length of the route, and said the estimate took into account that many fans left Boylston Street and went to watch the procession a second time when it passed by on the Charles River.
An MBTA spokesman said 1 million used the transit system -- a projection based on observations at stations and a count of vehicles entering T parking lots and garages.
The mayor's office reconciled the discrepancy by saying many walked to the parade or came into the city by car.
In an effort to avoid large disturbances, city officials decided not to stage a post-motorcade rally at City Hall. Instead, the Charles River leg was added to the land route to enable more people to view the parade.
While the Duck Tour boats were in the water, near the Longfellow Bridge, Martinez was struck in the forehead by a ball thrown from the Boston side of the river. He appeared stunned but not seriously injured, witnesses said.
As much as the celebration connected fans to their long-suffering past, the motorcade also allowed them a savor-the-moment chance to acknowledge this team's special season and the day's special moment of triumph. In Boston's long history, never have so many smiles been seen on so many.
Most fans waited hours for a moment that, in the end, was merely a glimpse of the team. But few seemed disappointed. In one electric moment at Government Center, Santa Lopez, 37, made eye contact with slugger David Ortiz, who pointed at her with both index fingers while she played a guira, a musical instrument from their native Dominican Republic.
''I feel crazy!" Lopez, a preschool teacher from Boston, said after the boat carrying Ortiz passed.
The excitement was no less pronounced along the Charles River, where the Duck Tour boats extended the parade in a round-trip excursion from the Museum of Science to the Massachusetts Avenue bridge that passed spectators on the Esplanade and along Memorial Drive in Cambridge.
Before the boats arrived, a bagpiper marched up and down the Massachusetts Avenue bridge playing ''Take Me Out to the Ballgame."
A school-age boy strolled the length of the bridge, high-fiving everyone and yelling, ''Go Sox." Several cars blasted ''Dirty Water," the Sox's unofficial victory song, from their speakers.
The parade drew Red Sox supporters from all over the country. John Mulcave, 48, a Winchester native, flew from Colorado with his son Patrick, 14, after buying tickets as soon as the Red Sox won the World Series. Patrick was missing an honors society induction for the parade, said Mulcave, who added: ''You've got to get your priorities straight."
Jarrad Plante, 22, of Dighton, flew to Boston on Saturday from Mississippi, where he is logging a year with AmeriCorps. His late grandfather, he said, was a diehard Red Sox fan.
''He would have done the same thing if he were me, and that is why I'm here," said Plante, attired in jean shorts, a gray Red Sox T-shirt, and sandals that he said he had worn for three weeks.
At Boylston Street and Massachusetts Avenue, Joseph Abramoff and Matthew Manning, 23-year-old buddies who had grown up in Worcester, settled in after leaving Pennsylvania at 2 a.m. Anticipating Halloween, they wore matching, self-inflating sumo-wrestler costumes -- one marked to represent Ortiz, the other, Ramirez.
''This," Abramoff said, ''is the best day of our lives."
Near them, 5-foot-1 Allison Bogosian stretched on her tiptoes and jumped to view the parade. She's 29, a lifelong Red Sox fan who grew up in Needham and lives in Stamford, Conn.
When she wore a Red Sox cap to a bar there to watch the final playoff game against the New York Yankees, she had to sign a waiver that absolved management of responsibility in case she were injured.
''I saved it to frame," she said.
As the Duck Tour boats slipped out of sight down Boylston Street, many fans headed down Massachusetts Avenue to watch the parade again from the banks of the Charles River.
Some fans smoked victory cigars. A number of revelers masked their celebratory cocktails in oversize Red Sox mugs, paper coffee cups, and brown bags.
About 1 p.m., when the first of the boats maneuvered past the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Storrow Drive, the bridge erupted in a show of flashbulbs and flailing arms.
One middle-aged man trumpeted his joy with a 3-foot plastic bugle. Others cried out the names of their favorite players: pitcher Curt Schilling, Ortiz, and Martinez.
In the end, the emotional parade was a catharsis. Celebration and forgiveness. Ecstasy for the team's accomplishment and self-congratulation for years of frustrating fidelity.
As Remi Browne, 51, of Manchester-by-the-Sea, said: ''I'm letting go of a lot of baggage, a lot of bitterness. I feel like I want to see Grady Little, I want to see Bill Buckner, and I want to apologize to them."
Kathleen Burge, Franco Ordonez, Maria Sacchetti, Irene Sege, and Suzanne Smalley of the Globe staff contributed to this article, along with Globe correspondents Heather Allen, Pat Calnan, Peter DeMarco, Carolyn Johnson, Michael Levenson, Kathy Lutz, Brendan McCarthy, Kimberly Moy, Megan Woolhouse, and Emma Stickgold.