Those who know me (and sometimes love me) know that I am a transplanted Yankee from a rural corner of Pennsylvania. Though I have always been and will always be a devoted Eagles fan first and foremost, I do love me some Saints. I have to, as New Orleans is my adopted home.
I was among the crowds on the streets of New Orleans when the Saints brought home the NFC Championship on January 24 by beating the Vikings with an overtime field goal, causing the city to erupt into a massive, spontaneous, citywide orgasm. The level of pure, unadulterated joy was something I’ve never seen before, anywhere.
In the two weeks between the NFC Championship game and the Super Bowl, New Orleans also went about its annual business of hosting the best party ever…Carnival, or Mardi Gras season. It’s one of the things the city does best, and one of my favorite times of year. While most people who have never visited New Orleans associate Mardi Gras with the drunken debauchery and crime displayed on shows like “Cops,” that’s not really what it’s about at all. Though trust me, the debauchery happens all year long on Bourbon Street, thanks to hoards of inebriated tourists. (And yes, I was once one of them.)
But Mardi Gras is so much more than that. Sure, it’s a party. Sure, there’s drinking, sometimes. But the popular myth that only by flashing their bodacious ta-tas to passing floats can women get beads is entirely untrue. That’s what Bourbon Street is for. All year long.
Along the major parade route, St. Charles Avenue, the streets are lined with families, friends, students, residents, tourists, etc. The kids are perched in ladders with attached seats that can be purchased at any local hardware store. The vibe is mostly friendly (except, in my experience, at Zulu’s parade, where I found the quest for the famous Zulu coconuts to be much more cutthroat).
Mardi Gras is much more civilized and much more family-oriented that some TV shows would have you believe. There are no barricades along the Uptown route. Children and adults are free to walk up to the floats to get beads, or stand back yelling, “Hey, throw me something, please!”
I find this year that yelling “WHO DAT?!” is also an effective way to get riders to throw you the loot.
The Super Bowl this year landed squarely in the midst of the city’s Mardi Gras celebrations. I watched the game from the best bar in New Orleans, the Erin Rose. The place was so packed that we watched the game from outside one of the two large windows at the front of the bar, where we had a great view of the big-screen TV on the wall.
No one in sports really expected the Saints to win this one. Sportscasters all over had pretty much handed an easy win to the Colts before the game ever started.
But the Who Dat Nation never lost faith. We yelled. We screamed. We hugged strangers in the street. We never gave up because the Saints never gave up.
The win was a beautiful thing for New Orleans. Once again, the streets overflowed with screaming fans, many shedding tears for something they’ve been waiting for their entire lives.
I’ve recently been called a traitor to my own team by jumping ship and sporting a black-and-gold Who Dat shirt. I’ve never in my life worn anything but my beloved Philly green, but I don’t think I’m a traitor. I don’t think I jumped ship either. Since Philly didn’t even make it that far, I don’t think they’d mind me supporting the city in which I live now…the city I love.
I donned the black-and-gold Who Dat shirt again for the Saints victory parade last night through New Orleans. While no official estimate of the crowds is available yet, once reporter guesstimated that there might possibly have been 800,000 people there, lined up to see their beloved Saints. Many people across the river on the West Bank waited hours to cross the river by ferry, and some never made it at all because of the crowds.
It wouldn’t surprise me at all if that 800,000 were accurate. I saw the crowds. I was crammed up against a barricade at Lee Circle for several hours before the parade even started and the crowds started gathering. It was an awe-inspiring experience, despite the cold and the wait.
What most people don’t realize, however, is that the crowd would have been just as large and just as enthusiastic had the Saints lost the Super Bowl. This is, after all, New Orleans in the middle of Carnival. This is a city with a soul like no other. New Orleans loves their Saints, and they love their parades.
I still believe that right now this city is the happiest place on Earth. Eat your heart out, Disney.