Captain Underpants is pulled by balloon handlers during the 86th American Thanksgiving Parade, Thursday Nov. 22, 2012, in Detroit. (AP Photo/The Detroit News, Sam Licari)
DETROIT (AP) — Thousands of people made the most of the mild, sunny fall weather to watch Detroit’s Thanksgiving parade, hours ahead of the Lions’ annual home football game.
Floats and marching bands poured down Woodward Avenue on Thursday morning, with many spectators forgoing the cold-weather gear of past parades. Detroit’s temperature hit 52 degrees at 11 a.m., with a warm wind blowing from the south.
The Troy Athens High School band entertained watchers, performing an international version of “Jingle Bells.”
“I grew up in the city and I’ve been trying to bring my kids back,” said Lawrence Stefani of St. Clair Shores.
He, his wife and three daughters came prepared, sitting in lawn chairs under a blue tarp. They’d even brought a propane heater and breakfast.
“This is our 12th year coming down here. I wanted to share the tradition with my family,” he told The Detroit News.
The annual Turkey Trot footrace that follows the parade route before the parade itself grew to the point where it was more of a walk than a run at times. There were 22,000 registered runners in the 10-kilometer and 5-kilometer events, and people had to walk at the start, on tight turns and at the end.
“I wish we could go faster,” Evelyn Clair, 29, of Berkley told the Detroit Free Press. “I wish my time was better. I’m trying to judge what it would be. But it’s still fun.”
Grand Rapids, too, saw a big jump in attendance at its Thanksgiving road race. The 20th annual Grand Rapids 5K Turkey Trot drew 2,000 runners, more than double last year’s turnout, according to WOOD-TV. The event raises money for the city’s schools.
In Detroit, floats ranged from cartoon characters to a Community Garden flatbed bearing giant strawberries and carrots.
Parade participants also included NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski, a 28-year-old Rochester Hills native and the first Michigan-born driver to win the Sprint Cup Series.
The parade ended shortly before the start of another holiday tradition — a Detroit Lions’ home game. They lost to the Houston Texans 34-31 in overtime.
Houston fans Mike Nijoka, Will Goodyear and Nathan Ledesma attended the parade, proudly dressed in ponchos and Mohawk hats with Texans logos.
“You hear about Detroit and the Thanksgiving game for the Lions, it’s a tradition,” said Nijoka. “We saw on the schedule we were playing the Lions and we knew we couldn’t miss it.”
Goodyear said, “Being a fan of a new team, it’s cool to enjoy a tradition that’s as old as the league.”