NEW ORLEANS --- Only a Super Bowl victory parade could upstage Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Carnival floats carrying Saints players, coaches and team owner Tom Benson rolled past tens of thousands of jubilant fans in downtown New Orleans on Tuesday, two days after the 43-year-old franchise won its first NFL championship.
Players, wearing team jerseys instead of traditional Carnival masks and costumes, tossed beads into the crowd and signed autographs for throngs of screaming fans. Benson shouted "Who Dat!" into a microphone from his perch atop a float. Head coach Sean Payton blew kisses and held the Lombardi Trophy over his head.
"This is wilder than Mardi Gras," said Frank V. Smith, 55, a lifelong New Orleans resident who shot photographs of players from the rear of a pickup truck. "I've never seen so many people out here like this. This is beautiful, man."
The parade, a week before the city's signature Fat Tuesday celebration, started outside their home turf at the Louisiana Superdome. Black, gold and white confetti floated over the crowd and a man wearing a Saints jacket held aloft a sign that read, "Happy Lombardi Gras!"
The floats stopped at a reviewing stand at historic Gallier Hall so elected officials, including Mayor Ray Nagin, Sen. Mary Landrieu and Gov. Bobby Jindal, could toast the team's 31-17 win over the Colts.
"How's the 'Who Dat' nation feel tonight?" Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees yelled when his float stopped at the reviewing stand. "This toast goes out to you. We love you and we won that championship for you."
Ten Carnival krewes lent floats for the team to ride. More than a dozen marching bands joined the parade as it passed by the edge of the French Quarter and ended at the city's convention center.