Football and festivals: these are my passions, and Mardi Gras merges the two together perfectly. Obviously, Mardi Gras provides a festival atmosphere with its beads, bands, floats, and costumes, but plenty of carry-over traditions from the recently completed football season are also a part of how Mardi Gras is celebrated. Football fans in New Orleans and all along the Gulf Coast region are especially fortunate to have Mardi Gras offering up a liquid-induced withdrawal therapy to help fill the football void.
College recruiting, free agency , and the NFL draft also serve this purpose, but they don't match the non-stop, back to back parades of Mardi Gras in recreating the similar type of rush you experience when watching a game live. With the countless number of drum-beating, trumpet blasting high school marching bands that participate in each parade and precede nearly every float, it brings you back to the moments right before kickoff when the band plays school fight song as the home team rushes out onto the field. Or, in the case of Mardi Gras, to work you into a hip shaking frenzy before the next float arrives at your spot on the route when you turn into a raging maniac yelling for beads at the top of your lungs. Just like you would in the Superdome when the game in on the line and the Saints opponent going for it on fourth and one.
My Mardi Gras celebration this year officially began on Thursday night when I drove over from Gulfport and lasted until I returned on Monday, after watching the Krewe of Tucks parade. Because of heavy thunderstorms on Saturday forcing the rescheduling of all the Uptown parades to the next day, I played my hardest on Sunday. Driving in from Lakeview where I had been dog sitting for friends who always choose to skip town for their Mardi Gras break, I turned onto St. Charles Avenue from Carrollton, and shortly reached the bumper to bumper traffic that was already forming several blocks before Audubon Park. Sensing the chances of finding parking near the parade route would be very slim, I went ahead and parked my car, and caught a streetcar filled with Tulane and Loyola students well into their pre-parade libations.
With standing room only, it was a challenge to maintain my balance on the constant stop-and-go two mile track ride. At one point, riders in the back tried to exit the back door but couldn't get it open. In a booming voice, the heavy set driver yelled, "Push it!" twice before they got it open. After the second command, one of the other riders channeled his inner Salt n' Pepa and followed up with, "Push it real good!" The whole streetcar broke out in laughter, and I was glad to hear the historical hip hop lyric recognized by the young college kids.
When we reached the final stop at Napoleon, the crowd was larger than any of the eight or nine Carnivals I had attended and definitely resembled a game day atmosphere. The weather was even like a fall football afternoon. Bright sunshine took over from the pale morning skies accompanied by a brisk breeze that carried the aroma of ribs, steaks, hamburgers, and smoked sausage sizzling off the grills that had been set up for miles and miles along the Saint Charles Avenue neutral ground. Meat was definitely not making its Lenten departure from South Louisiana without one last stand. The only pre-game aspect missing were ticket hawkers, who are unemployed at the moment, since Mardi Gras is the greatest free show on earth!
With a firm grip on my mini cooler, I walked the 15 blocks, through the maze of people, to my friend Barry's place, where he was having a party with red beans and rice, beer, bourbon, and access to a bathroom - all of which were more valuable to me than beads. It was between parades when I began my hike, and along each block of St. Charles, dozens of miniature footballs sailed through the air, as kids tossed passes with their buddies, brothers, cousins, uncles and dads. I saw so many dropped footballs during my lengthy walk along the parade route, I thought the New England Patriots had invaded Carnival.
However, the strongest similarity to football outside of the number of Saints and LSU apparel being worn, was the battle between revelers trying to catch beads. Since the float riders usually had targets they were aiming for, it often reminded me of a wide receiver trying to catch a pass in tight double coverage. This scenario playing over and over naturally made me think of Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, and how he excels at catching passes in tight spots and using his wingspan to snag the ball away from the grasp of defensive backs.
I then wondered how Jimmy Graham was celebrating Mardi Gras, and could he actually be on the parade route trying to catch beads? If so, who in their right mind would stand next to him? Nobody within a block would be able to catch anything. If NFL corners, safeties and linebackers can't cover Graham, drunken parade goers stand no chance whatsoever of catching beads thrown anywhere near him.
Considering Graham's relentess aggressiveness in going after the football, and the highly competitive tradition between parade goes for catching Mardi Gras beads, the two concepts should be combined in some type of promotion. If this has already been done and I missed it, let me try again and make another suggestion that someone should develop a social interaction website where you can send messages, post articles and share pictures with anybody you have ever known.
My sarcasm aside, how would you incorporate Jimmy Graham into a promotion or advertisement of him catching Mardi Gras beads, and what traditions from the football season are also a part of your Mardi Gras festivities? Also, if you are a Saints fan that has been sequesterd to an area where Mardi Gras is not celebrated, how do you feel in the void of being without both football and Mardi Gras?
Share with me people.