NEW ORLEANS – Still brimming with pride over their hometown football team's Super Bowl victory a week ago, New Orleans residents prepared to party once again at the city's legendary Carnival festivities.
"I'm going to see if I can get a flambeaux right now!" said Jack Huber, 60, a retired contractor among those who gathered on a freezing Monday night for the final evening of torch-lighted parades before Mardi Gras.
The Carnival season, a 12-day parade season, ends Tuesday with Mardi Gras -- a citywide celebration featuring costumed revelers, marching bands and decorative floats with riders tossing beads, doubloons and trinkets to huge crowds.
The season is the fifth since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and the excitement over the New Orleans Saints' first-ever Super Bowl win has overlapped with Carnival festivities.
The result is a collective lifting of public spirits to heights not seen since Katrina's floodwaters nearly destroyed the city on August 29, 2009 - killing nearly 1,000 residents and displacing tens of thousands from the metropolitan area.
"We're back!" Lawton Fabacher, 29, a native New Orleanian said as she sprayed gray paint on a replica of the Saints Super Bowl trophy before a parade Sunday night.
Fabacher, an unemployed school teacher, who gets by on contract work as a substitute instructor, said the Saints' internationally televised Super Bowl has been a major boost for the city's flood-worn image.
"This (team) is like a big billboard for this city," she said, triumphantly.
Moments later, the Bacchus parade got underway, with the Valentine's Day theme "Love is in the Air."
Tens of thousands of spectators dressed in Valentine-red mingled with Saints fans attired in team colors of black-and-gold, mixed in with traditional Carnival colors of purple, green and gold.
Marching bands played Saints' theme songs like "Halftime (Stand Up and Get Crunk)" along with Carnival standards, like Al Johnson's "Carnival Time."
"What's unusual about this Carnival season is the overlapping celebrations with the Saints," Carnival historian Errol Laborde said Monday.
Long recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, the Carnival season always begins January 6 -- the Feast of the Epiphany -- and ends with Mardi Gras, the last festive day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the austere Lenten season.
When Carnival 2010 got underway last month, Saints fever was already building, with the appearance of traditional seasonal "king cakes" in the team's black and gold, instead of the purple, green and gold colors of the holiday.
Laborde predicts the next bit of upbeat news the rest of the world can expect to hear from New Orleans will be the inauguration of a new mayor and city council on May 3.
Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu, now the state's lieutenant governor, won a stunning 66.5 percent of the vote on February 6 to replace Ray Nagin, an unpopular, term-limited incumbent who led the city through Katrina.
Landrieu's victory was overshadowed by the Saints Super Bowl win the following day, but it was seen as another sign of the city emerging from the bad memories that accompanied the devastating hurricane.
For the moment, the city was happy to enjoy the twin thrills of Super Bowl success and Carnival.
As the Carnival monarch of the Bacchus parade, Saints quarterback Drew Brees -- the Super Bowl's Most Valuable Player -- appeared atop a float dressed as the wine god.
He hurled toy footballs to thrilled crowds below.
Mardi Gras dawns Tuesday with jazz great Pete Fountain leading his Half-Fast marching club on its 50th anniversary trek up historic St. Charles Avenue to the French Quarter.
© AFP 2013