“I believe in this team.” Cody Gourgues, 20, Saints fan
“We’ve got to win this game,” said Scott “Sparky” Sparks, 54, on Sunday afternoon at his longtime tailgate spot on South Rampart and Girod streets. “We’ve got to take care of business.”
Sparks, a veteran Saints fan and member of the tailgating group known as the Korner Krewe, was enjoying a cold beer with his friend Charlie “Tuna” Fontenelle. Nearby, a plume of smoke billowed from a heap of charbroiled oysters.
The two men, featured in 2010 on the TV show “Tailgating Warriors With Guy Fieri,” have been carousing downtown before Saints games since 2006.
On Sunday, their crew of about 100 revelers chowed down on oysters and jambalaya, while keeping a watchful eye on the game between the Panthers and the Falcons, which had playoff implications for the Saints.
“I think the fact that Carolina loses is important, but I think we’ll succeed if we play the way we can,” said Cody Gourgues, 20, who was minutes away from attending his first home game.
“I believe in this team,” he said.
Fans across the city expressed similar predictions that the Saints would bash the Buccaneers, and their prophecies were delivered in the form of a 42-17 drubbing in which New Orleans clinched a playoff spot and re-energized a fan base that had grown weary after two consecutive losses.
“Drew’s going to pull out all the stops, some stuff Sean hasn’t even thought of,” said Herb Newton, a car salesman and member of the Korner Krewe, before the game.
By halftime, Brees and company had done their best to prove Newton right.
The Saints sprinted to a 28-14 lead, unleashing an offensive blitzkrieg during which Brees threw for 321 yards and 4 touchdowns with a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3.
Bypassers screamed “Saints Bait” at a solitary Buccaneers fan wearing a jersey and a red hunting cap. The man wandered down Poydras Street like a lonely seagull searching in vain for his flock.
The mood was festive and carefree in sun-splashed Champion’s Square, where a few hundred fans congregated to watch the game on a big screen.
After Brees hit Lance Moore with a 44-yard strike early in the first quarter to put the Saints up 7-0, a trio of female fans adorned in gold tutus celebrated with a coordinated jig.
Minutes later, at North Rampart and Poydras streets, members of a tailgate organized by Ronnie Norman flexed their biceps when Saints tight end Jimmy Graham snagged his 16th touchdown of the year to put the Saints up 14-7.
As the game wore on and the Saints widened their lead, the familiar Saints anthem “Stand Up and Get Crunk” by the Ying Yang twins burst forth from the speakers of Happy’s sports bar, a few blocks from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
There, Kylie Odum, 25, had been perched at an outside table with her friends since the first quarter.
“We finally played up to our potential,” Odum said, adding that the Saints will be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs.
Her friend, Tracey Schlotterer, 25, said it was Brees’ 9-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that was the highlight of the game.
“He’s our hero,” she said with a beaming grin.
The excitement levels of Saints fans could easily be measured by the chanting crowd that came spilling out of the Superdome and high-stepped through the Central Business District.
At Poydras and South Liberty streets, a rag-tag group of six long-haired percussionists, some of whom beat on empty pails, triggered a boisterous dance party where Saints fans unleashed their funkiest dance moves.
The group’s staccato beats, intermingled with a chest-pounding bass line and the moans of a saxophone, plunged through the cool night with the force of a mating call.
The crowd grew thicker by the moment.
A tall blonde wearing a Jimmy Graham jersey, cowboy boots and a pair of sunglasses sashayed into a makeshift dance circle.
A half-dozen others followed in her path. They shimmied, whirled and gyrated as the percussion grew louder and more frenzied.
“Welcome to this party,” chanted the drummers in unison to those who had just arrived. “Don’t be afraid!”