VANCOUVER -- Jo Savelli booked her tickets to Vancouver long before she knew which teams would be on the field for the Grey Cup game. The 52-year-old from Burlington, Ont., was coming no matter what.

So it was a happy coincidence when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats defeated the Montreal Alouettes, securing a spot for Savelli's home team.

"We worked hard this year," Savelli, wearing a Tiger-Cats jersey and a yellow scarf around her neck, said Sunday at a rally along Vancouver's waterfront before the game.

"We came from behind, we have a new home (at Tim Hortons Field), and everything is fitting nicely."

Savelli is among thousands of people who travelled across the country to watch the Tiger-Cats play the Calgary Stampeders in the 102nd Grey Cup.

She said the Grey Cup is as much about the community that gravitates to Canadian football as it is about the actual game.

"All the different teams are standing together -- we're all united that we love the game," she said.

Indeed, fans who gathered at the Sunday rally, with sunny skies and a brisk temperature hovering around freezing, represented every team in the league.

Large flags with the Calgary Stampeders' horse held above the crowd. Foam helmets bearing the Montreal Alouettes logo. A man in a Darth Vader costume wearing a Saskatchewan Roughriders jersey.

Tony Dagenais of Moose Jaw, Sask., came with a group of friends adorned with elaborate green and white face paint, jerseys and capes.

Dagenais, 46, said CFL fans are like a "society within a society."

"This is one big conglomeration of everybody," he said in between posing for photos.

"This is a chance to say, 'Yeah, we're from all over Canada, but we're Canadian and we're all one."'

Before Grey Cup weekend arrived, there were few signs in Vancouver that a championship football game was about to land in the city. Even in the past few days, outside of official events such as Saturday's parade, only the occasional jersey-clad fan walking along a downtown street provided any indication the Grey Cup was imminent.

Just four days before the game, organizers had 4,500 tickets that had yet to be sold. Resale websites were advertising tickets for as low as $49, and several sellers hawking seats along the route to the stadium were simply shouting at passersby to make them an offer.

Vancouver last hosted the big game just three years ago, in 2011, when the B.C. Lions played for -- and won -- the Cup. Tickets that year sold out months in advance.

Still, large crowds clogged downtown streets Sunday as fans poured into B.C Place for the game.

The festivities began at a waterfront plaza next to the cauldron from the 2010 Winter Olympics, where bands and dancers took to the stage before the Grey Cup trophy arrived.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Hamilton mayor-elect Fred Eisenberger brought along jerseys from their respective teams, each with the other's name. Under the terms of a bet between the two, the mayor of the losing team will wear the other's jersey at the next council meeting.

"This is going to be a game for the ages," Nenshi told the crowd, declaring CFL football "the greatest game there is."

The gathering then left the plaza and marched about two kilometres to B.C. Place as pre-selected fans took turns carrying the Grey Cup while surrounded by a circle of security guards bright yellow jackets.

One of the first to take hold of the Cup was Steve Bashak of Brampton, Ont., who came dressed as a giant puffy football with a Tiger-Cats hat on his head. Bashak said he booked his flight to Vancouver after a few Tiger-Cats wins in September. He had a good feeling Hamilton would be playing in the final game.

Bashak hasn't forgotten the 1999 Grey Cup, also played at B.C. Place in Vancouver, where the Tiger-Cats defeated the Calgary Stampeders.

"We're going to party like it's 1999 when we were here and we won it all," he said. "We're hoping for the same result from the same team."

Norm Schmitz of Prince George, B.C., had hoped to be watching the B.C. Lions compete for the Cup.

But with the Lions knocked out, Schmitz had to cheer for somebody, so he was rooting for Calgary to keep the Grey Cup at least closer to home.

"We're from the West and we want to see the Cup stay out here," said Schmitz, 66, dressed in a Stampeders jersey.