The crowd leaped up in a standing ovation as 4-year-old Eric Pazz II dashed from the sidewalk and into the arms of his father, Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric Pazz, 32. Moments later, the family locked in an embrace seen by hundreds of millions of parade viewers around the world.
"All I wanted to do was hold my wife and son and tell them how much I love them," Pazz said later. "I was lost in the moment. There was nothing going on in the world except on the ground my family was standing on."
He presented his wife with a long-stemmed rose and then the family boarded the float, titled "Canines With Courage" and sponsored by Natural Balance Pet Foods, joining the procession as premier guests of the annual 124th Tournament of Roses.
It was among the most dramatic moments in the recent history of the parade that kicks off the new year for the throngs of spectators who line the 5 ½-mile parade route through Pasadena. It also symbolized this year's parade theme: "Oh, the Places You'll Go!"
Riding in a horse-drawn carriage laden with roses and ferns was Jane Goodall, the world-renowned primatologist whose decades of field work in Africa and for peace around the globe prompted parade officials to pick her as the tournament's grand marshal.
Her appearance was followed by another emotional event. At 9:33 a.m., Gerald Sapienza and Nicole Angelillo of Virginia tied the knot aboard Farmers Insurance's "The Love Float." Before the pastor onboard could say "You may kiss that bride," the bride, in a white bridal gown, and groom, in tuxedo, were already locking lips.
Even the weather seemed to cooperate; shafts of sunshine broke through overcast skies shortly after the parade got underway at 8 a.m. Temperatures that dipped into the low 40s took none of the bloom off the parade for those bundled up in blankets and scarves in grandstand seats and choice spots on sidewalks along the parade route.
Many visitors described the event as an auspicious start to the new year, despite the nation's fiscal woes.
Gazing at the fast-stepping Stanford University marching band and beaming, Douglas Wallace, 68, mused: "There's something different about the parade this year — it's more festive; so much exuberance." The retired teacher from Torrance added, "I think people are looking for something optimistic."
Some found just that in "A Healing Place," a float honoring nursing professionals around the world, including 2013's president of the Rose Parade, Sally Bixby, the first nurse and second woman to lead the pageant founded in 1890 to promote Southern California as a sort of paradise of sunshine and flowers.
"We were very thoughtful about making this parade a positive, caring and uplifting way to start the new year," Bixby said in an earlier interview.
Sharon Steingass, a cancer nurse of 33 years, made a special trip from her home in Ohio to see the first-ever nurses' float, which featured a serene forest scene and was funded, designed and built under the auspices of a nonprofit created by nurses from across the nation. She was there with longtime friend and fellow cancer nurse Edith O'Neill-Page, 68, who is a breast cancer survivor.
A few minutes later, Bixby passed by in the procession's president's car. "Sally! Sally!" O'Neill-Page cried as she waved. She turned back to Steingass and said, "Oh, she's my hero."
Providing an escort for the 42 blossom-bedecked floats were 21 silver-studded equestrian units prancing to the beat of 23 of the nation's top marching bands.
Crowd pleasers included the city of San Gabriel's first Rose Parade float in 41 years, "Celebrating Our Journey," which featured a large mission bell and two oxen pulling a bountiful cart of grapes, harking back to the days when Mission San Gabriel was known to produce wine.
Then there was the San Jose Valley Christian/Beijing, China No. 57 School "East-West Fusion Band," the first internationally combined high school band in the parade's history. Wearing blue and red uniforms, respectively, the band members performed "Shenandoah" and "Jasmine Flower."