By Kevin McGill/The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — It was evident in the sounds of busy cash registers and in the smiles of construction workers in a neighborhood where Hurricane Katrina’s scars linger: the Saints’ journey to the Super Bowl has added emotional bounce to this city’s long, hard recovery and added a new reason to party going into the raucous Mardi Gras season.
It was even reflected in the political discourse. “I’ll find the Drew Brees of police chiefs,” mayoral candidate Troy Henry promised at a forum Monday, in a nod to the Saints’ popular quarterback.
“It lifted my spirits,” construction worker Kenneth Lewis, 46, said during a late morning lunch break. He was part of a crew renovating a house in the Broadmoor area, a rebounding Katrina-flooded neighborhood where blocks of freshly painted houses and neat lawns are still pocked by abandoned houses in various stages of disrepair.
“I’ll be in Miami,” Lewis said, anticipating a trip to the Super Bowl. “I’m not sure if I’ll get tickets, but I’ll be in Miami.”
The team’s 31-28 overtime victory over the Minnesota Vikings sent shoulder-to-shoulder crowds pouring into French Quarter streets Sunday night in a scene reminiscent of Mardi Gras — fitting since the Feb. 7 Super Bowl will fall on the first big weekend of parades for the annual pre-Lenten bash that culminates on Feb. 16.
New Orleans police — accustomed to controlling big crowds — reported no serious problems with the Sunday night celebrations.
In honor of the team’s fans, Gov. Bobby Jindal on Monday proclaimed this week “Who Dat Nation Week.”
“Whereas, the Who Dat Nation has served as a 12th man on the field for the defense all year long, making the Superdome one of the most intimidating places to play; and whereas, through victory or defeat, the Who Dat Nation has stood behind this team in a way no one has ever seen; and whereas, whether you attended every home game this year, some of the games or simply rooted on the Saints in your living room, the fans of the Saints deserve praise at the conclusion of their “Superdome Season,” the proclamation said.
Jindal also challenged members of the Who Dat Nation to show up in Miami to support the Saints.
“This special team deserves to be surrounded by Who Dats on Feb. 7,” he said.
Sending a team to the Super Bowl may provide more than just a spiritual lift.
Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret said the Super Bowl presents a marketing opportunity to attract new and expanding businesses — and to wipe away the images of post-Katrina devastation that he said some companies still associate with Louisiana.
“It really just helps put a spotlight on our state in a positive way,” Moret said Monday.
He said his office will be “using the Super Bowl as a pivot point to get out positive messages about the state of Louisiana.”
But don’t expect any state economic development ads during the game, Moret said, noting that the cost of TV advertising time during the Super Bowl is larger than his department’s ad budget for the entire year.
On Monday, Saints-themed merchandise sold briskly at Academy Sports and Outdoors in the suburb of Gretna. The store opened immediately after the game Sunday night, said Debbie Legania, a sales associate.
For safety reasons, store employees only let about 40 customers in at a time, she said.
“We had at least 400 customers in here in the three hours we were open. At least 400. We closed at 1 a.m,” she said.
When the doors reopened Monday morning, the crowds were waiting, she said. And by noon, they were still streaming in.
“I’m going to buy at least 10 of the NFC championship T-shirts,” said Tracy Goetzel, of LaPlace, La., who was in scrubs and on a lunch break from a nearby doctor’s office where she works. “I want to make sure everybody is ready for the Super Bowl and dressed in their proper attire.”
Copies of The Times-Picayune newspaper — with a picture of Brees on page one and winning field goal kicker Garrett Hartley fronting the sports section — were hard to find Monday in New Orleans and its surrounding suburbs. Coffee shops, grocery stores and even the airport had sold out by the afternoon.
“You’re not going to find a paper anywhere in town,” said Melissa Lewis, a cashier at Kid Creole Food Mart in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, La. “People are saving them, framing them as souvenirs. We sold out in 30 minutes.”
The enthusiasm spilled over into residents’ Mardi Gras preparations. Traditional Mardi Gras colors are purple, green and gold. But many were opting for the Saints’ team colors, said Alyssa Fletchinger, an assistant manager at Plush Appeal Mardi Gras Beads and Costumes.
“People are decorating their homes, their floats, their everything in black and gold this year,” Fletchinger said. “Black and gold is always popular. But this year we can’t keep it on the shelves.”
Victory was especially sweet for New Orleans businessman Dave Dixon, who fought to bring an NFL team to the city in the 1960s and was a driving force behind construction of the Louisiana Superdome in the 1970s.
Dixon, 86, had to watch the game at home because of his health.
“Oh, man,” he said Monday in a telephone interview. “I feel like I’m in heaven. Just wonderful. I had a little heart problem. But I feel much better. I’m very exhilarated over the Saints’ great victory.”
Associated Press Writers Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge and Janet McConnaughey and Stacey Plaisance in New Orleans contributed to this story.