Mardi Gras spirit fills New Orleans Saints victory parade

Loyal New Orleans Saints fans stuck with their team through years of lousy records. Now, says Debby Wood, who joined the celebrating throng, 'It's like the prodigal son finally came home.'

Bill Haber/AP
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees tosses beads to the crowd as the team does a victory parade through the central business district of New Orleans Tuesday. The Saints and fans are celebrating the Saints' 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Sunday's Super Bowl XLIV.
Patrick Semansky/AP
New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson addresses the fans as the team parades through the central business district of New Orleans, Tuesday. The Saints and fans are celebrating the Saints 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.

New Orleans has had a few days to get used to its newfound gridiron hero status, but if Tuesday night's Super Bowl parade is any indication, the city –indeed, the entire state as well as the South in general – will be celebrating the 43-year old franchise’s first NFL championship for a long time.

As the smell of barbecue filled the air and the sounds of competing boom boxes, high school bands, and car stereos rang from the buildings, thousands of people lined the streets to cheer, welcoming the Saints home to a Mardi Gras-flavored tailgate party. Gold confetti littered the air as “the boys” waved and threw beads from atop their perches on borrowed floats.

The parade culminated at the foot of Convention Center Boulevard, where Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter, Gov. Bobby Jindal, and Mayor Ray Nagin toasted the team with champagne.

It was a different atmosphere than the stunned, overwhelmed amazement in Sunday night’s French Quarter following the Saints' win over the Indianapolis Colts. Then, no one could quite believe the news, and people couldn’t stop high-fiving and greeting one another with shouts of "Who dat? We dat!"

Tuesday’s parade had the usual bacchanalian rapscallions – fun lovers like the self-appointed “Popes of the Who Dat Nation,” who showed up in foam fleur de lis mitres and purloined Hilton Hotel bathrobes. But amid all the revelry lay something deeper – a quiet, humble appreciation for the city’s beloved team.

Debby Wood said she was overcome with emotion as she and her husband Donald drove over from Metairie Tuesday afternoon for the parade. After all the partying, reality is still sinking in, and with it comes the memory of just what this win means for not only the Saints and their devoted fans, but for all of New Orleans.

"The Saints – they're like wayward sons," Mrs. Wood said. "They don't do the right thing sometimes, but you keep giving them money and keep supporting them. Finally it paid off. It's like the prodigal son finally came home.”

Tears welled in her eyes. “Everyone in this city was so sad,” she said, recalling the dark days following hurricane Katrina, which left the majority of the city underwater and claimed more than 1,800 lives. “We’re not sad anymore.”


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