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NFL starts with an encore: Saints vs. Vikings

NFC finalists meet again in league opener

NEW ORLEANS – The Saints’ first Super Bowl title was so big in New Orleans that Mardi Gras, a revered local institution dating back well more than a century, became popularly known as, “Lombardi Gras.”

New Orleans’ momentous victory over the Indianapolis Colts occurred in the middle of the city’s parade season, so the Saints’ celebratory ride through town with the Vince Lombardi Trophy was simply added to the lineup. In the following days, players, coaches, team officials and the trophy made appearances in traditional parades as well.

And while Mardi Gras ended way back on Ash Wednesday, it seems as though Lombardi Gras still isn’t over quite yet – certainly not by the looks of the French Quarter, where a massive concert stage has been built on the river front, overlooking historic Jackson Square.

In the hours before the defending champs kick off the NFL season against the Minnesota Vikings tonight in the Louisiana Superdome, the Big Easy will host a concert featuring Dave Matthews and Taylor Swift, an NFL-sponsored parade and a citywide bash for which a number of schools and businesses have already decided to shut down.

“It’s like the Super Bowl all over again,” Saints running back Reggie Bush said.

Indeed, Saints owner Tom Benson will show off the Lombardi Trophy once more at a newly completed festival plaza next to the Superdome that has been named Champions Square.

Minnesota outperformed the Saints in numerous statistical categories when they met in last season’s NFC championship game and might have won if not for five turnovers.

Tonight’s game also features the return of Brett Favre, who’ll start his 20th season despite offseason left ankle surgery that had him mulling what would have been his third retirement. Instead, he reported to the Vikings halfway through the preseason.

The Saints’ biggest changes come on defense, where there will be three new starters.