Early Mardi Gras
New Orleans awash in black and gold for Saints
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- All around him, there was a party going on but Jenario Sanders had tears in his eyes.
"I've had season tickets since I was a little boy," he said. "Some of us have suffered a long time."
Sanders, 39, is a New Orleans Saints fan, one of 10,000 who joined a raucous pep rally that brought a party atmosphere to the city a day before the start of Mardi Gras season -- and a day before the Saints entered the second round of the NFL playoffs.
They had only gotten to the first round four times in their 34-year history until last week, when they defeated St. Louis for their first-ever playoff win. On Saturday, they play the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis.
On Friday, Mayor Marc Morial called on New Orleans residents to wear Saints colors and asked employers to let workers have a long lunch break so they could attend the rally at the Superdome.
The Saints' color scheme of black and gold was everywhere from the post office, where clerks celebrated what city officials coined as "Black & Gold Day," to Christ the King elementary school, where students normally required to wear predominantly red uniforms were instead encouraged to sport Saints colors.
"The kids were all excited and wore all kinds of Saints shirts and hats and pompoms on their shoes," said Neva Frazier, who runs the before-school care program at Christ the King school. "The teachers had on their Saints earrings and one boy had on a full jersey with the pants and cleats, so it was cute."
During the lunchtime rally in the Superdome, bands played, the Saintsations cheering squad danced and, just to make sure the Saints' 34-year curse was really lifted, organizers also restaged a voodoo ritual that was conducted before last week's victory over St. Louis.
Ava Kay Jones, a voodoo priestess, draped a huge South American Boa Constrictor around the mayor's shoulders while voodoo dancers pulsated to a drum beat.
Former Saints heroes in attendance included former Pro Bowl linebacker Pat Swilling, now running for a seat in the state Legislature.
Outside the dome, a woman on a van tossed gold Mardi Gras beads to fans as they entered the stadium.
Among those employers who answered Morial's request to give employees time off was T.C. Chisesi, who went above and beyond the call.
"I asked the guys to come to work and hour early and then shut down for the day at 11:30 so we could all come here," said Chisesi, the owner of a meat packing company, who brought his wife and 8-year-old son along.
Chisesi knew his son, Colby, couldn't possibly appreciate how much the celebration meant to older fans.
"I hope he has a chance to get used to this because most of us have experienced the negative for too long."