NEW ORLEANS — Mardi Gras falls on a Sunday this year.
The city of the Saints is filling up with ex-New Orleanians and others ahead of the Super Bowl, many looking to cast off a legacy of football futility and natural disaster — others just looking to party down in one of the world’s greatest party towns.
“We’re staffing just like we do for Mardi Gras, and if the Saints win, we won’t close at all. We’ll stay open as long as people are standing,” said Earl Bernhardt, a bar owner in the French Quarter.
The Saints are making their Super Bowl debut After 43 years in existence. Fans from most cities would be headed to south Florida about now. But for ex-pat New Orleanians, the game is triggering a pilgrimage home.
And for everybody back in town, the party’s already started. Saints jerseys, “Who Dat?” T-shirts and black and gold beads are the uniform everywhere you go.
The French Quarter’s narrow streets also are awash in the team colors. “It’s been all Saints all the time,” said Steve Sabrier, an oil field worker who marched from the Superdome to the French Quarter after the NFC championship.
Sister Mary Rose, a Dominican nun who attends every Saints game and teaches at a Catholic school in the Quarter, said the feeling of sheer excitement in the city is almost tangible. “I think ‘exuberant joy’ is the word,” the nun said. “And it has brought such a unity to us, such a bond between all the people here it’s just amazing.”
“Who wants to be on Miami Beach when they can be in the French Quarter with the Who Dats for the game?” said New Orleans transplant Belinda Hernandez, who now lives in Atlanta. She actually turned down Super Bowl tickets.
Besides being Super Bowl weekend, this is the start of carnival season that ends Feb. 16 on the real Mardi Gras. There were two parades in New Orleans on Saturday and two set for today, but they’re rolling early to avoid conflicting with the game.
Rick Watson is among the natives coming back. “Where would you rather be if the Saints win, the French Quarter or Miami? Even if they lose you want to be in New Orleans,” he said.