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Chilly weather can’t stop New Orleans’ big party

NEW ORLEANS — Pete Fountain, clarinet in hand and looking dapper in a white tuxedo and fedora trimmed in gold, kicked off Mardi Gras with his “Half Fast Marching Club” the way they have for 50 years: with beads and jazz.

“We’re slower than we were, and older than we were,” Fountain, 79, said with a laugh. “But on Mardi Gras, none of it matters.”

Tuesday, the final day of Carnival, was sunny and cold with high temperatures around 50 degrees. That didn’t do much to chill a party that has been rolling since the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl on Feb. 7.

“I have plenty of antifreeze with me if I need it,” said Jessie Grace, 57, playfully waving a flask from his pocket. “If Mardi Gras doesn’t warm you up, nothing will.”

Many along the parade route wore Saints jerseys. One group of cyclists was costumed as flying pigs, which long-suffering fans had always said they would see if the Saints won the big game.

“Hell froze over,” said Sandra Bell, 51, shivering under a blanket. “Can’t you feel it?”

The Saints were toasted as kings, invited by krewes to ride floats across the city. Quarterback Drew Brees, coach Sean Payton and owner Tom Benson served as monarchs of parades, while players Devery Henderson, Charles Grant, Deuce McAllister and others rode a float built by the Krewe of Zulu.

Mayor Ray Nagin and other city officials rode on horseback to the reviewing stand, where they watched the parades and toasted the krewes who organize them. Nagin, making his last ride as mayor, wore a jacket saluting the Saints.

By afternoon, crowds on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter had grown. The cold didn’t stop the tradition of people on balconies tossing beads to the crowd below in exchange for a glimpse of flesh.

Elaborate costumes filled the street, with heavy emphasis on the Saints: Two men dressed as the Lombardi Trophy — the totem of the NFL championship — and another group dressed as fleur-de-lis, the unofficial emblem of the city and the team.

The party traditionally wraps up at midnight, when Len