That the Super Bowl is coming as New Orleans celebrates Mardi Gras has only heightened the festive atmosphere. Seemingly every building facade, lamppost and highway overpass is decorated with either Super Bowl XLVII signage or gold, purple and green Mardi Gras decorations — or both.
In New Orleans, Mardi Gras is not just one long weekend but an entire season, Carnival, that begins on the Feast of the Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, and runs through to Fat Tuesday — a span running from Jan. 6 to Feb. 12 this year. There are elaborate, float-filled parades and fancy balls, costumes and marching bands, beads and king cake — one long celebration before Ash Wednesday ushers in the more sober 40 days of Lent that end with Easter.
"Technically, we don't start our new year until Mardi Gras," Besh said. "You don't work on your resolutions until after Mardi Gras because what would be the point?"
This year, the parades took a break in New Orleans during the week leading up to Super Bowl Sunday, although they're still scheduled in smaller towns. They'll start up again in the city on the Wednesday after the game, and continue daily through the big finale of Mardi Gras.
Having a Super Bowl, and all its attendant parties, in the middle of all this may seem a daunting proposition. But this is New Orleans, where partying is one of the things the city does best.
"We're known as a town that knows how to celebrate," Romig said with some understatement.
The dual celebrations will help the city continue its return to pre-Katrina tourism levels, he said. The city had 10.5 million annual visitors before the hurricane, "and then we only had insurance and emergency responders coming for a while," Romig said. Now, the numbers are headed upward, with 8.75 million visitors in 2011, the most recent statistics available, and projections of more than 9 million in 2012, he said.
Those who arrive this week at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International will step right into a party atmosphere. Officials arranged for bands, parades and other entertainment for visitors "right when they get off the plane," said Michelle Wilcut, an airport spokeswoman.
It's all hands on deck at the airport, she said, to accommodate what is about double the usual traffic. On Monday, the most popular day to leave town, more than 29,000 passengers are expected to pass through the gates, compared to the normal 15,000 to 16,000.
"And that doesn't include charter flights," Wilcut said.
Nor does it account for any incoming traffic to New Orleans' next big event.
"Right as the big exodus of Super Bowl happens," Wilcut said, "the big influx of Mardi Gras starts."
Many, no doubt, are tempted to just stay.
"This is my second home," Baltimore chef Nancy Longo said shortly after arriving Thursday afternoon to participate in the Taste of the NFL party Saturday night. "I love this place."
The party, which brings in chefs from every NFL city, has been held for 22 years. Longo, who owns Pierpoint in Fells Point, has represented Baltimore as long as the Ravens have, since the 1996 season. The sold-out event is a fundraiser that supports food banks in the NFL cities, and Longo, with her culinary counterpart from San Francisco, will have pride of place in the front of the room.
Elsewhere in town, parties and concerts will feature everyone from Lil Wayne to Justin Timberlake to Paul McCartney, and the paparazzi will be on the lookout for the likes of Owen Wilson and Stacy Keibler, the former Ravens cheerleader and current George Clooney squeeze.
Also filling VIP rooms at the parties will be NFL players and coaches, especially those whose seasons are over. But for some here, the most coveted "gets" are their own New Orleans Saints.
"Sean Payton," said Keith Abboud, a manager of Metropolitan Night Club, naming the Saints coach as a favorite guest. "He's a rock star in this town."
The club is normally open to the public on Saturdays but mainly hosts private events. This week, it has parties for the 49ers, CBS and Rolling Stone magazine, Abboud said. On Wednesday, Moves magazine, which covers pro athletes, held a party hosted by Jay Glazer of Fox Sports, with a guest list heavy on current and former NFL players. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome walked the red carpet leading to the party with Saints counterpart Mickey Loomis. The public was invited, with tickets ranging from $50 to $150.
"It gets bigger and bigger every year," Abboud said of the Super Bowl-related festivities. "The parties are getting more sophisticated.
"Eleven years ago, it was, 'Hey, the players might show up,'" he said of the last time New Orleans hosted the Super Bowl. "Now it's more sponsored, more organized. You know before who will come. There are exclusive guest lists. It's somewhere to see and be seen."
Abboud was particularly excited about a party at Metropolitan today featuring celebrity DJ Steve Aoki, whom he's traveled to Las Vegas to see. He's expecting such a crunch of people, parties and congestion as the week progresses that he booked a room in an adjacent hotel to make sure he didn't get stuck in traffic between his home in nearby Metairie and the club.
But it's a good problem to have.
"We closed for more than a year" after Hurricane Katrina, Abboud said. "We didn't know if we were going to re-open. We've been doing very well. The city has really bounced back."