NEW ORLEANS -- Apparently, a diamond-encrusted fleur-de-lis is a Saints player's best friend.
"It's pretty incredible," Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees said of his championship ring, which team members received at a ceremony Wednesday night. "In fact, I think it's absolutely perfect because nothing was left out on that ring as far as the symbols of our season."
The yellow-gold ring features a fleur-de-lis -- the symbol of both the team and New Orleans -- made up of several dozen diamonds on top. There are 44 diamonds around the edges to commemorate the 44th Super Bowl, which New Orleans won over Indianapolis in Miami on Feb. 7. And there are also 16 diamonds -- eight on each side of the fleur-de-lis -- to symbolize the number of games the Saints won last season.
On one side of the ring is a carved image of the triple-spired St. Louis Cathedral, the Louisiana Superdome, a scene from the Saints' championship parade and the first few musical notes of "When the Saints Go Marching In."
On the other side is the final score of the title game (Saints 31, Colts 17) along with the date and location of the first Super Bowl in which the now 44-year-old franchise played.
On the underside of the ring are inscriptions of team mottos from last season: Be Special; Finish; and Smell Greatness.
"We found a way to become world champions. It was never about one person. It was never even just about our team," Brees said. "It was about a city and a community and the way we were all able to band together. And this [ring] is, I guess, the fruit of our labor. We'll always have those memories with us, but the ring is the tangible symbol that says it all."
Players, coaches, executives and other staff entered the historic downtown Roosevelt Hotel on a red carpet while fans cheered and called out players' names from behind a barricade.
Several players who were released or signed elsewhere after last season, such as Philadelphia running back Mike Bell and free agent defensive end Charles Grant, returned to New Orleans for the ceremony. Scott Fujita, who left as a free agent for Cleveland, also returned. Deuce McAllister, who was released after the 2008 season but brought back in a ceremonial role just before New Orleans' first playoff game in January, was there as well.
Arriving with McAllister was Saints running back Pierre Thomas, who has skipped a recent minicamp and offseason training sessions over a contract dispute.
Even the scene of the ceremony was symbolic. The ornate hotel, where the New England Patriots stayed during their first Super Bowl triumph in 2002, closed after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. It reopened after an extensive multimillion-dollar renovation in 2009, the same season the Saints won their first title. Across the street is the still-dormant New Orleans Orpheum Theater, a nearly century-old triple-deck musical hall that once housed the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. The boarded-up entrance and faded posters from the symphony's 2004-05 performance schedule were a reminder that not all of New Orleans is back and that more work remains, just as a new season approaches for the defending champions.
"There's always work to be done, but it's special because this place opened after Katrina," linebacker Scott Shanle said. "The Saints came back. People didn't know what to expect. It's been four years where we put it back together, but we still know we can do better."
After the private ceremony, Brees and his wife rode off into the French Quarter in a black-and-gold horse-drawn carriage. Several players including Reggie Bush approached the barricades and held out their hands so that fans -- many wearing Saints jerseys and screaming "Who Dat!" -- could take photos.
Coach Sean Payton also mingled with fans. The coach said he always expected he'd have such a ring one day and now expects to get another.
"Here's why, when you start feeding your dogs steak, they don't ever want to eat dog food again," Payton said, grinning. "We've been eating too much steak."