NEW ORLEANS -- Only a Super Bowl victory parade could
upstage Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Carnival floats carrying Saints players, coaches and team owner
Tom Benson rolled past tens of thousands of jubilant fans in
downtown New Orleans on Tuesday, two days after the 43-year-old
franchise won its first NFL championship.
Players, wearing team jerseys instead of traditional Carnival
masks and costumes, tossed beads into the crowd and signed
autographs for throngs of screaming fans. Benson shouted "Who
Dat!" into a microphone from his perch atop a float. Head coach
Sean Payton blew kisses and held the Lombardi Trophy over his head.
"This is wilder than Mardi Gras," said Frank V. Smith, 55, a
lifelong New Orleans resident who shot photographs of players from
the rear of a pickup truck. "I've never seen so many people out
here like this. This is beautiful, man."
The parade, a week before the city's signature Fat Tuesday
celebration, started outside their home turf at the Louisiana
Superdome. Black, gold and white confetti floated over the crowd
and a man wearing a Saints jacket held aloft a sign that read,
"Happy Lombardi Gras!"
The floats stopped at a reviewing stand at historic Gallier Hall
so elected officials, including Mayor Ray Nagin, Sen. Mary Landrieu
and Gov. Bobby Jindal, could toast the team's 31-17 win over the
"How's the 'Who Dat' nation feel tonight?" Super Bowl MVP Drew
Brees yelled when his float stopped at the reviewing stand. "This
toast goes out to you. We love you and we won that championship for
Ten Carnival krewes lent floats for the team to ride. More than
a dozen marching bands joined the team on its route, which passed
by the edge of the French Quarter and ended at the city's
Shannon Cobb, 28, of Metairie, said the parade was a party with
"Everybody is here for one reason: their love for the city and
their love for the Saints and to show our appreciation for what
they've done for us," she said.
The Super Bowl win, which capped just the ninth winning season
in franchise history, was a stunning reversal of fortunes for a
team once derided as the "Aints." Few players could appreciate
that better than fan favorite Deuce McAllister, the team's retired
all-time leading rusher who joined the team on the sidelines for
the Super Bowl.
"It's been pretty crazy," he said Tuesday. "Everywhere you
go, you can see the pride in the fans."
Fans are grateful for more than just the team's on-field
performance. Many members of "Who Dat" nation credit the team
with uniting a city that has struggled with racial divisions and
labored to rebuild in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which
left about 85 percent of the city underwater in August 2005.
"After the hurricane, people were more willing to come back
when they realized the Saints were coming back," said Scott
Catalanotto, 35, whose 7-year-old son sat on a ladder and yelled
In the French Quarter, thousands streamed toward the parade
route, turning Bourbon Street into a river of black and gold.
Will Kaplan, 28, stood out in a billowing white toga with a
gold-colored halo and the word "Breesus" on his back.
His Jesus-inspired costume, he said, was made from sheets he had
in a FEMA trailer he stayed in after Hurricane Katrina on the
University of New Orleans campus.
"I'm the spirit of the party," he said.
Enduring chilly, windy weather under overcast skies, fans
started staking out spots along the parade route more than seven
hours before the floats rolled.
Tim Thorn, a 35-year-old landscaper, drove in from Baton Rouge
to be among the early birds. He said he gave his daughters, Cameron
and Carson, the day off school because the event was too big to
"It's probably the biggest party in the world," he said.