Fans elevated the Boise State University Bronco football team to rock-star status with a daylong celebration Saturday honoring its Fiesta Bowl victory.
The Broncos were feted with a parade, a salute by state and local officials, autograph sessions, official ceremonies, live television coverage and throngs of adoring fans.
Boise police said more than 20,000 zealous BSU fans swarmed Downtown on Saturday to cheer on the nationally recognized Bronco team.
Thousands more filled BSU's Caven-Williams sports complex to secure autographs and face time with players.
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Fans started gathering along Capitol Boulevard and at Downtown restaurants and shops before noon. Others partied with steaming cups of coffee, hot dogs and live music.
Helen and Ron Caudle of Caldwell painted their faces Bronco blue and posed for pictures with other fans at BoDo. The Caudles hold season tickets and attended the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona.
On Saturday, Helen wore a sandwich board-type sign emblazoned with "Sooner slayers from the land of the Smurf turf," along with a Smurf hat and shoes.
"Boy, did we set off the Oklahoma dudes," Helen said.
Bill Hallock of Caldwell was a passenger on the 38-hour, calamity-plagued bus ride to the Fiesta Bowl. He ventured out to Saturday's parade sporting a neon orange wig. "We survived. We're here," he said.
Jason and Heidi King set up their camp chairs on Capitol Boulevard across from FedEx Kinko's at 1:30 p.m. to guarantee front-row seats. The Boise couple who got married in BSU's little white chapel on Broadway Avenue said they've been BSU fans "pretty much forever."
"For me the highlight of this season was seeing all the seniors and having their senior year be the best year ever," Heidi King said.
A contingent of fans from Star gathered on the corner of Capitol Boulevard and Idaho Street at 11:30 a.m. The group tacked up signs reading "The City of Star [heart] the Broncos," and "Broncos #1."
"I've never held a spot for a parade for hours before," said Chris Stokes, who moved to Star a year ago from Bend, Ore. "We're new on the Bronco bandwagon."
Lupe and Roy Ortiz's daughter-in-law, an Oklahoma native, lost a bet to the Nampa couple on Jan. 1. The payout? A banner proclaiming the Broncos the Fiesta Bowl champions, which the Ortizes unfurled proudly on Capitol Boulevard in a spot near BoDo where they hoped the players would see it.
In the last minutes before police cleared the street to make way for the feature event, Ryan Heusser, 11, Lane Bridges, 12, and Emily Bridges, 10, demonstrated Jared Zabransky and Ian Johnson's now famous Statue of Liberty Play in the middle of Capitol Boulevard.
A BSU color guard led the parade, followed by the marching band, pickups with coaches and then the players.
"Anybody cold?" hollered Bronco head coach Chris Petersen from the back of the pickup that carried him and his family down the parade route.
"We're not cold, we're blue!" came the reply from the crowd, eliciting a thumbs-up from Coach Pete.
As flatbeds and semis filled with players passed by, an expanse of fans swelled forward in waves of blue and orange. Media darlings Johnson and Zabransky hunkered over, signing every shirt, ball, photo, poster, plastic trumpet and scrap of paper thrust at them.
The horde of fans closed in behind the trucks, despite police officers' efforts to keep the crowd back. The crowd followed the final truck to the Capitol steps.
"It's the best parade I've ever been to," said Bronco fan Jim Walls. "It may be smaller than the Macy's parade, but it has a hell of a lot more meaning."
Bronco Nation, as fans are now called, filled Capitol Park, pushing forward to a police tape border just below the Statehouse steps.
The Oravez sisters, Cina, Toni and Lynne (Schneider) put on their matching Bronco windbreakers and braved the chilly temperatures. The Oravez women are all BSU alumni and their dad taught at BSU, they said.
"We are superfans," Cina said. "Go, go, go big blue. Fight, fight BSU!"
Kids were hoisted onto shoulders to see over the crowd, fans rushed police lines to get closer and teenagers tossed confetti.
Coach Pete, his assistants and players gathered behind a gleaming Fiesta Bowl trophy perched on a table with a "Perfect Season" banner.
Local dignitaries lauded the team. Gov. Butch Otter declared January as BSU Broncos month, but accidentally congratulated the team for winning the Super Bowl.
Otter's wife, Lori, encouraged the crowd to donate to the Red Cross to help Oklahomans suffering from severe winter storms.
"They need blue and orange help," she said.
Boise Mayor Dave Bieter whipped up the crowd using the Basque language cheer "gora," which means "up with."
"Gora Boise State!" Bieter yelled.
BSU President Bob Kustra said the football team has "class."
"Class is shorthand for determination, for tenacity, for grit, for creativity, for courage, for never giving up," Kustra said.
The throng chanted "Pete, Pete, Pete," as Petersen took the podium.
"I'm the most overrated guy out there," he said praising his assistant coaches and players, giving them credit for the victory.
He then thanked the fans. "You are part of the team. We are part of your family. Whether you like it or not, you got us."
Zabransky spoke for the team, but took the moment to make light of his last-quarter interception that nearly lost the game.
"Hopefully, not too many heart attacks were happening the night of the first," Zabransky said. "We bleed orange and blue. And we will stay that way forever with your help."
After the parade and ceremony, the crowd quickly and quietly dissipated. But another crowd already had formed on BSU's campus for autographs.
Braving chilly morning temperatures, dedicated fans started lining up at 7 a.m. Saturday for the most coveted signatures in Idaho.
When the doors to the Caven-Williams Sports Complex were opened, some fans arrived with footballs to sign, others with posters, but everyone was running. By Saturday afternoon, the Boise State football team and its coaches were met with about 3,500 fans, eager to snag a piece of BSU history.
Julia Walters, married 11 years to former Boise State defensive end Rex Walters (1986-87), was lucky enough to get inside. Walters asked Zabransky to sign her jeans and put her leg up on the table.
"I love Z's tattoo, it's baaaad," Walters said. "It looks kind of like Zorro, so I thought, well, I might as well have him sign something that maybe someday might be worth something, so I just had him sign my pants. I can cut them up and frame them."
Don Stillwaugh of Meridian and his three grandsons — Dustin, 6, Tristan, 8, and Cole, 11 — headed straight for the running backs' table. Stillwaugh said it took one hour and 16 minutes to reach Johnson, their favorite player.
Tristan declared the wait in line "boring, but worth it."
When Donna Jess of Boise reached the front of the running backs' line, she handed a cell phone to Johnson. On the other end was Jess's daughter Nicole Daun, who was in Pocatello and couldn't make it to the signing.
"I was excited also, so after (Ian) spoke with her, I accidentally hung up on her," Jess said.
For some, like Patrick Slaughter of Boise, the day didn't turn out as successful. Slaughter brought four of his own drawings of the Boise State football team and waited in line to get a few of them signed by Johnson. But the session ended before Slaughter made it to the players.
"I'm going to keep trying," Slaughter said.
As time ran out, security guards streamed out yellow caution tape, giving the Broncos a clear exit and preventing fans from surrounding the players.
After the two-hour signing session was over, Johnson had emptied three Sharpies.
Boise State fans will never tire, it seems, of watching highlights from the Broncos' Fiesta Bowl victory.
The Broncos capped off Saturday's celebration with a tribute and trophy presentation at halftime during the BSU-Hawaii men's basketball game.
The brief ceremony started with replays of those now-familiar trick plays — the hook-and-lateral, Vinny Perretta's fourth-down touchdown pass and the Statue of Liberty 2-point conversion. The Taco Bell Arena crowd roared as if it was seeing each play for the first time.
"Can we see that too often? Is it possible to see that too often?" BSU president Bob Kustra asked the adoring fans.
Three representatives from the Fiesta Bowl presented the football team with the trophy, which was available for fans to take pictures Saturday.
When the spotlight turned to the trophy, the darkened arena lit up with flashes from cameras. Petersen then took the microphone.
"Bronco Nation," Petersen told the sellout crowd, "it's my pleasure to introduce to you the best football team in the country."
In keeping with the day's theme, Petersen thanked the Bronco faithful for their support throughout the season. Then, he offered a prediction: "We're reloading. We will be back here next year."