Hundreds of people crowded the lawn in the cold in front of New Rochelle City Hall Saturday to pay tribute to a native son and a Super Bowl champion.
Ray Rice, the Baltimore Ravens running back whose team won the Super Bowl in February, was honored at a rally by his hometown.
"This is where I'm from," Rice said. "This is where it got started.
"What a great way to bring the Super Bowl back to New Rochelle," he said.
The crowd, many of whom were wearing purple, which is the New Rochelle High School's color as well as of the Ravens, and holding signs—"Ray Rice Is Awesome"—filled the area in front of city hall from the steps all the way to North Avenue. A Ray Rice banner was hanging between two immense columns just under the 325th anniversary banner.
WFAN announcer Craig Carton, also a New Rochelle native, served as emcee for the event.
Along with city and school officials, as well as local politicians, the rally included the state champion New Rochelle High School football team, the national champion high school cheerleading team, the high school pep band, the Youth Tackle League and the Boys and Girls Club on New Rochelle.
"We are truly a city of champions," Rice said, gesturing to the crowd. "And it's right in front of my face."
He said he was just a sports figure who made it, but added that soon others could be standing where he was.
Rice said that in the crowd could be another successful football player, but also the next mayor, the next council member and future teachers and doctors.
"To everyone of the younger generation," he said, "y'all next."
Rice acknowledged that he had some rough times growing up in New Rochelle, but was guided on the correct path by family, friends and mentors.
"I found my way through life with the people in front of me," he said.
"I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart," Rice said.
Chrisanne Petrone, president of the New Rochelle School District board of trustees, said that while she was proud to honor the accomplishments of all New Rochelle students, she was grateful for Rice's continued involvement in the city's education system.
"Every child can look at him as a role model both on the field and off," she said.
Natice Jackson, 15, one of the high school's champion cheerleaders, said it was difficult to describe being on the same steps at Rice.
"It's really emotional, but you don't want to cry," the 10th-grader said. "It's just, like, very amazing."
Nyah Firmin of New Rochelle said it was worth the wait in the cold to see and hear the Super Bowl champion.
"He was great," she said. "He's a great person. He knew where he was."