World championships have been known to bring cities together in amazing ways. The 1968 Detroit Tigers brought the Motor City through a turbulent summer filled with race riots and urban strife. The 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team lifted the spirits of a nation gripped by economic malaise and a hostage crisis with a gold-medal run that included beating the mighty Soviets. Then there is the Saints winning the Super Bowl in the middle of Carnival season.
How would a city like New Orleans celebrate a Super Bowl anyway? This is a city that isn't short on causes for partying, but the spectacle that stretched from the Louisiana Superdome to the Convention Center was something even New Orleanians had never seen. It was beyond even the biggest Mardi Gras parade crowd; the New Orleans Police Department estimated at least half a million people were squeezed into a route a mile and a half shorter than the routes of the St. Charles superkrewes. And all this on a night when temperatures were in the mid-40s.
Brian Davies from Harvey parked his car right next to the parade route on Lee Circle around three hours before the parade started. He was there with his kids, cousins, parents, family friends and his black Chevy Silverado (which he insists was decked out in black and gold before Chevy offered the Limited Edition Saints models). The truck was stocked with sodas, beers and food for the day.
"It's a historical moment, can't you tell?" he said. "How do you describe a win like this?"
Not far from him, Dian Winingder wore a Reggie Bush football helmet and a black Jeremy Shockey jersey as she stood on a Mardi Gras ladder behind her grandchildren. She was among the earliest to arrive — around 11 a.m. — and could barely talk for all of her excitement. She and her family had arrived in Miami at 7 a.m. Super Bowl Sunday to see the game and were back in New Orleans at 3 a.m. the next day. She rubbed her hands (the nails painted black with gold fleur-de-lis) to keep them warm, and marveled at all the people that were arriving.
"Mardi Gras day is not like this," she said.
Ross Louis, aka Chef Who Dat, said he found one of the last front-row spots for the parade at the intersection of Lee Circle and Andrew Higgins Drive. He arrived after leaving work around 1 p.m. and, just three hours later, the crowd around him had swelled to an few hundred people. Louis says there were some tense moments but there was nothing that kept him from enjoying the day.
"I've been in Mardi Gras crowds for Endymion and Bacchus that were 20 people deep and people were fighting for space," he said. "But people were just lighting each other up. Kids couldn't see so they got brought up to the front. It was like one big family.
"I almost don't care about the championship part," Louis said. "Because every time we said we were special, everything we thought we were with the city, with the Saints or with our cultural rituals, our claims to having a unique identity — it's all been validated."