NEW ORLEANS — Only a Super Bowl victory parade could upstage Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Carnival floats carrying Saints players, coaches and team owner Tom Benson rolled past tens of thousands of jubilant fans in downtown New Orleans on Tuesday, two days after the 43-year-old franchise won its first NFL championship.
Players, wearing team jerseys instead of traditional Carnival masks and costumes, tossed beads into the crowd and signed autographs for throngs of screaming fans. Benson shouted "Who Dat!" into a microphone from his perch atop a float. Coach Sean Payton blew kisses and held the Lombardi Trophy over his head.
"This is wilder than Mardi Gras," said Frank V. Smith, 55, a lifelong New Orleans resident who shot photographs of players from the rear of a pickup truck. "I've never seen so many people out here like this. This is beautiful, man."
The parade, a week before the city's Fat Tuesday celebration, started at the Louisiana Superdome. Black, gold and white confetti floated over the crowd and a man wearing a Saints jacket held aloft a sign that read, "Happy Lombardi Gras!"
The floats stopped at a reviewing stand at historic Gallier Hall so elected officials, including Mayor Ray Nagin, Sen. Mary Landrieu and Gov. Bobby Jindal, could toast the team's 31-17 win over the Colts.
"How's the 'Who Dat' nation feel tonight?" Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees yelled when his float stopped at the reviewing stand. "This toast goes out to you. We love you and we won that championship for you."
SUPER BOWL BETTING: Gambling regulators say Nevada casinos won almost $6.9 million on this year's Super Bowl as bettors wagered $82.7 million. The Nevada Gaming Control Board said the win was $179,000 more than sports books won last year, on $1.21 million more in bets.
PEPPERS UPSET: Julius Peppers no longer wants a long-term contract with Carolina, saying the Panthers have ignored him this offseason.
In an interview on a Charlotte, N.C., radio station, the five-time Pro Bowl defensive end indicated he's irritated by the team's "silence" and has changed his stance on whether he wants to continue his career in Carolina.
"Last year, at the time, that was the option that I wanted most," Peppers said. "Now it's not."
Though agent Carl Carey said last week he believes the Panthers aren't interested in retaining Peppers, Carolina's career sacks leader, team officials haven't announced their plans.
JACKSON CLEARED: Rams running back Steven Jackson won't face criminal charges over allegations that he beat a girlfriend who was nine months pregnant with the couple's child at his Las Vegas home last year, police said.
JONES' STATUS UNKNOWN: New Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates wouldn't discuss left tackle Walter Jones' status for 2010. Speaking for the first time since moving north from USC, Bates said left tackle is extremely important but that he "won't get involved with what route we're going" at Jones' position. Jones, 36, posted on his Twitter page last weekend that "it is time for me to retire from football."