Saints fans take the party to the streets
NEW ORLEANS -- While the New Orleans Saints were off in Miami winning Super Bowl XLIV, I spent the day talking with their fans back home. Some held on to their faith, others to their afflictions, but all held on to the dream for their football team. The day began at a Pentecostal church with prayer and song, and later included impromptu music on the streets, the wafting of cigar smoke and celebratory chants ringing outside windows, car doors and anywhere peoples' vocal chords could stretch. Come with us on a journey through a day in the life of New Orleans on Super Bowl Sunday -- a Sunday that began with hope and ended in exaltation.
10 a.m.: Bishop Earl LeViege Sr. is the pastor at Gethsemane Temple in uptown New Orleans, right across the street from Peyton Manning's high school. LeViege, a carpenter, built this church with his own hands, literally. His son, Kenneth, tells me that Earl grew up with nothing. "He had to make his own toys," Kenneth says. "That was God's way of preparing him." The Pentecostal church has been home to the neighborhood for 44 years. The focus in church on Sunday was mostly about the new mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu bringing hope to parishioners, hope that change will start to come to this city of rising crime. But there was room for the Saints, too. "Pray for them," Pastor Earl says, "they are our team. Let's pray God's will is just what will happen if they win." The parishioners then remind the pastor there are no ifs. "When they win," he smiles and says.
11:50 a.m.: Mike Kincey is president of the Cajun Cowboys, whose primary mission since Hurricane Katrina has been riding in parades and working charity functions. Kincey, a native of New Orleans, is riding Prince Black. He and the Cowboys are about to join the final parade of the day, which was moved up hours earlier because of the Super Bowl. "If the Saints win," Kincey says, "everybody better go inside."
12:10 p.m.: The floats line Napoleon Avenue before setting off for downtown. The final float is an ode to the Saints, and Jimil Clark, 19, steps up with his cell phone and takes a photo. Clark grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, but his entire bedroom is dedicated to the Saints. His friend, Robert Push, 22, moved to Corpus Christi after the hurricane, and needed to be here to celebrate. "It's good to be back home," Push says.
12:30 p.m.: A group of about two dozen inmates from the Orleans Parish Prison line the median of Napoleon Avenue. As the cleaning crew, they follow right behind the Saints float, sweeping the streets free of debris. For every day of community service worked, the men get one day off their sentences. According to one of the sheriff's deputies, these are all minimum-security inmates. The deputy says they plan to be back at the prison by 3 p.m., where everyone will watch the game. "For sure," he says. "We wouldn't be working [at the parade] if we had to miss it."
2:30 p.m.: Andrew Menaquale, 23, Neal Manor, 24, and Alan Posner, 23, didn't know where they were going to watch the Super Bowl, and they didn't care. Their only mission was to post their sign on St. Charles Street, and get anyone to honk. All three are transplants to New Orleans, but it hasn't dampened their enthusiasm. They estimated that all the honking had amounted to only about five or six beers at that point. "Our goal is to get a school bus or a cop to honk," Manor says. "But the verbal honking has been much better than what an actual car can do." And on cue, a man walking down the street car path obliged.
5:30 p.m.: The St. Charles Health Care Center is both a nursing home and rehabilitation clinic for addicts. It is an unusual mix of people, some of whom are often forgotten on days like this. Many of the residents were signed out by family members to watch the game, the ones who remain are either too sick or without family. So instead they watch from the second floor. Most are in wheelchairs. Darryl Scholz, 67, says the doctors told him that he's too weak to biopsy the nodules on his lungs. "My health is pretty iffy," he says, smiling faintly. Scholz spent most of his life in Maine, but back in the 1960s, when he got out of the Air Force, he spent some time in New Orleans and loved it. So when he retired in 2001, he came back. He says every Sunday the staff puts on the Saints game, and his favorite players are Jeremy Shockey and Jonathan Vilma. "Once Shockey learned how to catch Drew Brees' passes," Scholz says, "they became a good team." Scholz thinks the Saints' unity as a team is a lesson. "They don't have any issues that divide people," he says. "It sets a darn good example for this city. I wish we'd follow it."
7 p.m.: Casey Lumpkin, 24, says a few weeks ago after the Saints beat the Cardinals, he asked his brother if he could steal his look, as a superhero named SuperSaint. His brother gave the OK, and Lumpkin stepped outside of the bar at halftime for a cigarette. He, like many on the streets, is nervous but hopeful. "Take [Peyton] Manning out," Lumpkin says. "I don't care that he's from New Orleans, we need to win this game."
7:55 p.m.: Moving away from Bourbon Street I walk out toward the water, in search of interesting people and stories. From across the street I spot this sign, like so many others tonight, of a private party. As I start shooting the door, a woman walks up and closes it gently. It's about to be the fourth quarter, and people are anxious.
8:15 p.m.: A crowd packs in to a neon-lit daiquiri bar. They are at least 20 people deep, spilling onto the dirty street. They collectively shake back and forth, rocking, swaying, yelling, praying, moving -- anything to shift the nerves. As they count down the minutes, putting the permutations in their heads about how this game can be won or lost, suddenly, Tracy Porter sparks mayhem. As Porter runs away with an interception and into the end zone, there is no real sound on Bourbon Street. The chorus of joy is more than deafening, it is numbing. The Saints will go on to win the Super Bowl, but no single play or moment elicits such force, such oversized glee, than Tracy Porter's pick of Peyton Manning.
8:45 p.m.: Like coins bursting from a slot machine that's hit a jackpot, people flood the streets. A New Orleans cop on a horse gets stuck in the middle of Bourbon Street and high-fives everyone he can. He takes out his cell phone, snaps pictures and makes a call. He pumps his fist and endlessly smiles. He is among the thousands of images in a storm of people, from children on their fathers' shoulders to women and men waving parasols, flying beads, and routine chants of the Saints' most recent anthem, "Halftime (Stand Up & Get Crunk)" by the Ying Yang Twins. Just in the shadows of Bourbon Street, a man carries pizzas, offering them for $5 each. A woman grabs the last one, and he takes off into the crowd, presumably to hawk more. A few blocks away on Canal Street, people barrel down the sidewalk in a hijacked bellman's cart.
9:30 p.m. Just off of Canal Street, a large yellow bus that reads Jefferson Parish School stops in the middle of the street. The bus is outfitted inside with neon lights, and there are generations of people from New Orleans East screaming to the Ying Yang Twins' famous song, constantly on a loop. Gwen McClendon had all of the people over to her house for the game, and her neighbor, Alfred Matthews, offered to drive his neighbors downtown in his party bus, pro bono. Gwen invited me on the party bus, where they tell me their only mission was to get down to the French Quarter and celebrate. "It's a party for New Orleans!" McClendon yells.
10:30 p.m.: I make my way to Harrah's Casino, where the scene is fairly subdued. On my way back on Canal Street, just before the Sheraton Hotel, I run into a woman and her son, waiting in line for food at a street booth, which litter the city during Mardi Gras. Doris Harvey, 67, is by herself, celebrating. Harvey is from Mobile, Ala., but moved to New Orleans in 1970, where she raised her family. She used to be a staple on the famous Zulu parade route and had her daughter drop her off downtown after the Saints won. "I wanted to be here," she says. "The Saints won, and God bless them. The city needed this. It lets us know that we can do it."
11 p.m.: A spontaneous, street-wide dance party has broken out on Canal Street just in front of the Sheraton. The Ying Yang Twins' song is on loop. One of the hotel managers is dancing and taking photos with his camera. In the crowd are twin sisters, Kay Sabathier and Rae Kirkup. Rae's daughter, Shelly Loftus, is with them. The sisters' birthday is at midnight, and they dance and yell: "Tell 'em New Orleans knows how to party!" Then they give an ode to the Ying Yang Twins: "Now we're gonna get crunk!" The sisters swear as long as they keep playing the song, they'll keep dancing. As natives of the city, they say they were at the very first Saints game. They remember a broadcaster saying after the franchise's first loss that their team went limping off the field. The sisters, just an hour shy of their birthday, look at each other, "Well," they say, "they ain't limping off anymore!"
Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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