NEW ORLEANS - The Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints are celebrating Mardi Gras-style.
Carnival floats carrying players, coaches and team owner Tom Benson started rolling through downtown New Orleans for a victory parade Tuesday.
The celebration comes two days after the team earned its first championship in franchise history. Quarterback Drew Brees and other players were throwing beads into the crowds as confetti floated in the air. One float carried an oversized replica of the Super Bowl trophy.
The Mardi Gras-flavored parade includes 12 marching bands and one float each from 10 krewes.
The Saints’ 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts capped just the ninth winning season in the team’s 43-year history.
On Monday, swarms of fans in black and gold greeted the players as they stepped off a chartered plane at the suburban airport, cheering them with “Who Dat!” chants. The Saints, cellar dwellers for decades, delivered not just their first Lombardi trophy but optimism for the city still recovering from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“The Saints kept hope alive in this city that better days were coming,” said Shannon Sims, a 45-year-old criminal court administrator, as she waited for the team. She said the Saints “were the force that kept us moving forward.”
The win was not just about football for New Orleans, said John Magill, a historian at Historic New Orleans Collection.
“We’re all being told that we’re sinking, why bother rebuild it, there was so much of that attitude,” Magill said. Thanks to the Super Bowl win, he said, Americans will view the city in the positive light it deserves.
Sunday’s victory came a day after New Orleans elected a new mayor and several other city officials. But in the area newspapers on Monday there was little besides the Saints.
The New Orleans paper, The Times-Picayune, ran a 5-inch headline that said “AMEN.” The subhead read, “After 43 years, our prayers are answered.”
At Lakeside News, which usually sells about 100 copies a day, owner Michael Marcello said he had sold 6,000 to 7,000 by 9:15 a.m.
Thousands of fans lined the road outside the airport with their Saints jerseys, “Who Dat!” chants, homemade signs, fleur-de-lis garb, face paint and Mardi Gras costumes (like the Saint-a Claus fellow). Coach Sean Payton held the Lombardi trophy aloft through the sunroof of his car, eliciting wild screams.
At the airport, 37-year-old courier Aaron Washington said “the dawn of a new day” had come. A brass-band version of “When the Saints Go Marching In” blared from his car stereo.
“This team has allowed us to get past Katrina and look forward to better things,” Washington said. He watched the game with dozens of friends and relatives on a big-screen television in front of a home in eastern New Orleans that was rebuilt after the 2005 hurricane flooded it with 9 feet of water.
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