If pro football really is the national religion, the Mardi Gras-style victory parade for the New Orleans Saints on Tuesday displayed the varieties of religious experience: What other event would bring together Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s choirboy GOP governor, and the Ying Yang Twins, the Southern rap duo whose songs describe sexual activities that barely sound biologically possible?
On Monday, Saints quarterback Drew Brees starred in the Super Bowl victor’s traditional parade through Disney World. But baby, this ain’t Disney World. This is the louche, gothic, funky old city of dreams, on the third night of a celebratory bender.
“If you didn’t come here to have fun, something is wrong with you,” outgoing Mayor C. Ray Nagin yelled outside Gallier Hall, where the Ying Yangs, warming up the crowd, had performed the Saints’ hip-hop anthem while Jindal listened nearby.
For a city with a good pro football team, it’s convenient to have Mardi Gras in February. The parade, which began at the Superdome, borrowed a dozen floats from the major Mardi Gras krewes. Players rode amid papier-mache trappings, chucking beads to adoring crowds in a sea of black and gold.
Little distinguished this from the deliriously frivolous parades that have been rolling through these streets for centuries -- except the float with the coach, Sean Peyton, hoisting the shiny football-shaped trophy that had avoided New Orleans like a teetotaling tourist.
“This is better than any Mardi Gras,” said longtime fan Gene Guilbeaux, 49.
Carnival is democratic entertainment not only because it’s free, but because the crowd shares the burden of entertaining itself. And so it was this evening.
All of the classic pre-Lenten bases were covered. Satire was represented by the man in the chicken suit playing off the MasterCard ads, with a sign declaring that the Saints’ victory -- and Nagin’s exit because of term limits -- was “priceless.”
Absurdity was embodied by the blindfolded guy with a sign: “Don’t tell me what happens . . . I TIVO’d It!”
As for sex, there were two modestly dressed but devilishly grinning women with signs showing tight end Jeremy Shockey, shirtless.
The lead float was manned by Saints owner Tom Benson, who might have said something profound. But his words were obscured, for many observers, by a rapper who exhorted the crowd to shout, over and over, “WHO DAT!”
Quarterback Drew Brees was on the next float, standing in front of a giant bearded head of Bacchus, the Greek god of mirth. Brees -- who completed a cyborg-like 32 of 39 passes Sunday -- seemed to be reveling in a deliberately inaccurate throwing task, flinging fistfuls of plastic beads wherever.
The crowd roared. Brees is a Texan who played college ball at Purdue, then ended up in New Orleans after injuring his shoulder with the San Diego Chargers. This is a city full of successful journeyman Texans -- many of them oil-business executives -- who never quite find acceptance in the intensely insular world of New Orleans society.
Brees is something else entirely. Chalk it up to the magic of football: New Orleanians in the last couple of days have been building a shrine to their beloved quarterback outside the gates of his home. With its heartfelt Sharpie-scrawled sentiments and random totems of life in this particular ‘hood -- a six-pack of Abita, the local brew, a Hubig’s pie, a storied New Orleans junk-food staple -- you’d think, observing from a distance, that the guy had been the victim of a drive-by, not a Super Bowl MVP.
“How’s the ‘Who Dat’ nation feel tonight?” Brees said as his float stopped at Gallier Hall. “We love you and we won that championship for you.”
A man took a microphone to wish Brees the best, on behalf of all of the fans who have waited 40-plus years for New Orleans to experience this moment. It turned out to be U.S. Sen. David Vitter, the family-values Republican running for reelection here despite the fact that his phone number famously appeared on a prostitution service’s list of clients.
Sure enough, this ain’t Disney World. Brees’ float rolled on through the cheering throngs, hanging a left at Canal Street.