Mardi Gras has nothing on Saints mania

There’s a party brewing in New Orleans that’s filling up hotels and drawing the faithful to the city, but this weekend the magnet isn’t Mardi Gras. The New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl debut has fans in a fever to celebrate with their brethren.

Phillip Davenporte wants to be with his people — the “Who Dat” fans — on Super Bowl Sunday.

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“I’m a die-hard Saints fan. I’ve been dying hard for 43 years,” Davenporte, from Mobile, Alabama, said. “Oh my goodness, it’s our time.”

Davenporte, 55, and his wife, Gail, plan to drive to New Orleans on Sunday morning to take in the long-awaited event with other devotees. After looking into traveling to Miami, Florida, and staying in a hotel two hours from the stadium where the New Orleans Saints will battle the Indianapolis Colts, the Davenportes decided to get into the thick of things in the Saints’ home town.

They’re checking into a hotel and playing it by ear about where they watch the game, but they shouldn’t have any trouble finding the requisite big screen and fired up crowd: The city’s notoriously good times are rolling into a frenzy that fans can’t resist.

Hotel bookings over the weekend are rivaling the traditional height of the Mardi Gras season, which is under way and usually peaks the weekend before Fat Tuesday (February 16), according to the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Even some locals are getting rooms in the French Quarter for Super Bowl weekend to be closer to the heart of Saints mania, said Marvin Allen, who is head bartender at the Carousel Bar in the French Quarter’s Hotel Monteleone.

“I really think this is the only city that has an NFL team, where the fans want to be in … the home city, rather than actually being at the Super Bowl itself because it’s going to be so much more fun here,” Allen said.

The Carousel Bar will be showing the game on all its TVs, and Allen expects to be busy as soon as the doors open at 11 a.m. He’ll be mixing Black and Gold Sours and Bulleit Brees bourbon cocktails in honor of the team.

“I think the mood is even greater than it is for Mardi Gras,” Allen said. “People are in a much better mood, everybody’s excited, everybody’s wearing black and gold.”

The 250 spots for the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel’s Super Bowl viewing party were gone by Tuesday, said hotel employee Renee Maxwell, and rooms for the weekend are steadily filling up.

Black and gold paraphernalia is flying off the shelves at Beads by the Dozen, said store owner Dan Kelly.

Kelly, 60, a Saints season ticket holder and president of the Mardi Gras Krewe Endymion, has never seen anything like the Saints euphoria in New Orleans.

“You can’t describe what it’s all like. But everybody, anywhere you go — even in doctors’ offices — everybody’s wearing black and gold and high-fiving people,” he said.

It’s a boost the city needed along the long road to recovering from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“You know whether we win or lose, the city has something to hold onto now. We have something we can hang our hat on,” Kelly said.

Mardi Gras parades will be rolling over the weekend, after a bit of schedule shifting to avoid Super Bowl overlap. Tourism officials haven’t had time to poll hotels about booking levels for next weekend — the weekend before Mardi Gras Day and typically the season’s busiest — but win or lose, the city will be celebrating.

A parade for the Saints will be held on Tuesday after the Super Bowl, and Saints quarterback Drew Brees and team owner Tom Benson will ride with the Bacchus and Endymion krewes next weekend.

Davenporte feels good about a win. “We are ready. It is our time. Peyton Manning is gonna have to wait.”

And if the Saints are victorious?

“I’m sure that if the Saints win there’s going to be many more people coming to the city to help celebrate that weekend and make Mardi Gras probably the biggest Mardi Gras that I’ve ever seen in my 60 years,” said Kelly.

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