BOSTON -- The New England Patriots were dismissed as mediocre, called lucky when they moved through the playoffs, and seen as sacrificial lambs in the Super Bowl.
On Tuesday, the Patriots were simply Super Bowl champions to the estimated 1.2 million fans who packed the streets of Boston and City Hall Plaza.
The players took the chance to revel in their 20-17 win over the heavily favored St. Louis Rams and insisted there was nothing improbable about it, even though they were underdogs in their last two postseason games.
''We kept our mouths shut and got the job done when nobody gave us a chance in hell of doing it,'' said wide receiver Troy Brown, as he held the Super Bowl trophy aloft.
''City of Boston, it's been a long time coming, huh?'' defensive back Lawyer Milloy told the crowd packed shoulder-to-shoulder in City Hall Plaza.
''They labeled us underdogs, they gave us no respect. We've got our respect now, right?'' he said, before leading the crowd in a chant of ''We're No. 1!''
Coach Bill Belichick remembered the season's start six months ago at training camp, when few thought they had a shot at a title.
''It's been a long voyage and a long journey,'' he said. ''We took the last step of the way Sunday night, and I feel like our journey's complete now.''
The last time Boston sports fans had a chance to celebrate a title at City Hall was 1986, when Larry Bird and the Celtics won the NBA championship. The city was so desperate for a winner it held a rally for Colorado's Stanley Cup title last year because former Bruin Ray Bourque finally got his ring.
''We're so used to being miserable,'' said John Snoonian, 33, a chemist from Ayer. ''We're used to getting that close, then having it fall off the table. This is much, much better.''
Success seemed unlikely for the Patriots at the start of the year. After struggling to a 5-11 record in 2000, they began this season 1-3 and lost their starting quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, to injury.
But backup Tom Brady replaced him and eventually led the team to nine straight wins, including the Super Bowl.
Brady, the Super Bowl MVP, didn't speak at the rally, though he did slap hands with fans and sign footballs that were tossed on stage. He also got at least two marriage proposals from women holding signs, and performed an unchoreographed victory dance with owner Bob Kraft after being urged on by cornerback Ty Law.
Bledsoe did not attend, to the disappointment of fans who chanted for him at least twice during the rally. Bledsoe came in for Brady after he was injured against Pittsburgh in the AFC championship and led the Patriots to a win.
The celebration started a half-mile away at Copley Square with a caravan that carried the players, coaches, owner and their families through a sea of supporters to City Hall.
Fans stacked several rows deep cheered and chanted while waving American flags, Patriots banners and homemade signs. Police officers on horses, motorcycles and on foot escorted the vehicles.
The players waved took photographs of each other and crowd, and some players cupped their hands to their ears as they rode slowly through the parade route to prompt louder cheers.
Kicker Adam Vinatieri, who hit a 48-yard field goal as time expired to give the Patriots a 20-17 victory, was loudly cheered along the entire route.
At the rally, Vinatieri told the crowd about a team mantra, ''Don't talk to me,'' that the Patriots adopted for confronting doubters.
He then urged the crowd to repeat it as he enumerated the team's many accomplishments.
The fans at City Hall roared at the slightest provocation, and stayed generally good-natured despite the freezing weather. Police said they made 10 arrests for minor infractions, including disorderly conduct.
Jeff Andrew, 15, of Westwood, and several of his friends attended the rally topless to showcase the letters P-A-T-R-I-O-T-S painted across their chests.
''I'm not feeling any pain, I''m too numb,'' Andrew said. ''I'll do anything for the Pats. We're hardcore fans.''
Above the plaza and along the parade route, fans peered from rooftops with binoculars and through high-rise office windows. Church bells rang and people showered the route with confetti.
Nonessential state employees were given an extra hour break to attend the festivities. Acting Gov. Jane Swift, U.S. Sen. John Kerry and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino attended the rally.
Laurie Jerome, 40, of Westwood, said she and her husband Michael, 37, returned from New Orleans at 1:30 a.m. and still turned out for the celebration. Dressed in a red, white and blue feather boa, Mardi Gras beads and a Patriots jacket, Laurie said fans related to the Patriots because they weren't flashy, just effective.
''They're hardworking blue-collar slobs like the rest of us,'' she said. ''That's why it's so exciting.''
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