Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

New Orleans Super Celebration

Aired February 9, 2010 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: New Orleans, partying all you can tonight, celebrating the Saints' first ever Super Bowl championship and a new chapter for a city nearly destroyed a little bit more than four years ago, and all of America is celebrating along as an underdog team and a battered city rise again. You're going to see New Orleans' super celebration, that's coming up live this hour.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(MUSIC)

BLITZER: For years, new stories about New Orleans have centered on disaster and struggle, but tonight, it's all about victory and celebration. Right now, massive crowds are lining the streets of the city for a parade honoring the Super Bowl champions, the New Orleans Saints. The parade is just getting underway this hour.

Let's go to CNN's Ed Lavandera. He's watching what's going on.

Ed, we see the police officers getting ready. I don't know if you can hear me, Ed, but we're watching you and we're getting ready for you to talk.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf, if you can hear me, we're in the midst of the very beginning of the parade. Obviously, what will take part here, this is the New Orleans Police Department. And I know, I'm not even -- I can't even hear myself talk to be quite honest with you right now.

But a great deal of this parade will also include the rescue teams and the search-and-rescue teams, not only from New Orleans parish but from the surrounding parishes, who were so involved during Hurricane Katrina. So, that is rather one of the special poignant moments that would be a part of this parade here this morning.

BLITZER: Ed, if you can hear me, I'm interrupting you. I want you to get your microphone. Get that microphone right up to your ear. Right up to your mouth there.

Get that microphone right up to your mouth.

LAVANDERA: Oh, I'm sorry.

We're just a few blocks away.

BLITZER: All right.

LAVANDERA: All right. How about this?

We're a few blocks away from the New Orleans Superdome, and that was pretty much the beginning of the parade. They're getting locked down in place here. So, we're starting to see the other floats and officers.

And I don't know if you can make out what I was saying earlier, Wolf, but I was saying that a lot of what this parade will also include are the various first responders from not only New Orleans Parish but from Plaquemines Parish, from other parishes in the surrounding area that were so intricately involved in those terrible moments after Hurricane Katrina. Obviously, the Saints want to put those people on full display here as well for all of their hard work that they have done here over the last four or five years, and they will be a special part of this parade as well.

And, obviously, this parade will also include the players, obviously, the coaches, and everyone surrounded with the team. And those players and coaches will also be coming down riding on the floats that were traditionally used for the Mardi Gras floats. So, kind of this -- a good blend of that Mardi Gras culture here in New Orleans along with the New Orleans Saints' football team. So, many of the parade crews have loaned their floats for this parade.

You will see in the first float, Tom Benson and his family. They're the owners of the New Orleans Saints. They will be riding in that first float.

And then, in the second float, it will be Drew Brees, the quarterback, and the head coach of the New Orleans Saints, Sean Payton, and they will be riding some of the more premiere, more exclusive floats that are always part of this Mardi Gras season.

And also included in all of this are bands from the high schools and the colleges here in the surrounding area.

So, it is a long parade, making its way through several miles of downtown New Orleans. We are at the corner of Bordeaux (ph) and Loyola. This is the first corner. This is where they'll make the first turn, the Super Bowl is there. And then they'll come this way and make their way towards St. Charles Avenue which comes this way and just wraps around the corner down there. And that will be a special moment there as they travel down that historic St. Charles Avenue and that's where they'll get a chance to speak with the fans, and the tens of thousands of fans who have showed up here, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Ed. We're going to be getting back to you with James Carville and Mary Matalin, our CNN political contributors and New Orleans' residents. They're joining us right now.

First of all, James, where are you guys sitting as opposed to, you know, the big shots of this parade? JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, right now, we are in Lafayette Park, which is across the street from the big shots. After they finish this, we'll move over with the big shots and watch the parade and maybe interview a few of them tonight.

BLITZER: Because you guys belong with the big shots and especially Mary Matalin -- right, Mary?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: No, these are the big shots. I think that the Saints will all tell you that they would not be where they are today if they didn't have all of these fans pushing them every inch of the way. This is the whole team.

BLITZER: What is this parade, this celebration that we are about to see mean for the people of New Orleans and indeed for the entire Louisiana gulf coast, James?

CARVILLE: It's hard to imagine, you know, phoenix rose from the ashes, and we are rising from the mud down here. And the mood here is just unbelievable. People, they're "dats" is what we call them, the "Who Dat" crowd is everywhere, and I think it really signals something significant in the reconstruction of the city. It is hard to overestimate what this means to our people and what it means to our city.

BLITZER: It's a -- it's something, as we have been saying, that transcends football, transcends sports, because when you think of what happened in August of 2005 in Louisiana, in New Orleans specifically, and you think about how different it is today, it's pretty amazing.

We're going to be joined also right now by Donna Brazile, also from Louisiana.

You grew up there. You brought some paraphernalia, Donna. You see James and Mary. But what do you -- what do you got to celebrate? You're here in Washington with us, but show us some of the stuff you brought?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, I have one of the officials Saints cap, I have my Saints umbrella. So, Wolf, clearly, if I was home, I got my Mardi Gras beads, I got my red beans, my shrimp (ph). I am ready.

This is a -- this is a day of celebration, because the Saints -- they've come to symbolize what the city has been through, what the people, the resurgence, the hope. They have lifted our spirits. They brought us together.

And now, we're going to rebuild and have a rebirth, a renaissance so to speak, because the Saints are clearly our hometown team. But not just for New Orleanians, but the whole state of Louisiana and the gulf coast region.

BLITZER: Let's go back to New Orleans right now, because I want to talk over some of these pictures that we're seeing. And you see the floats are beginning to arrive fairly soon. This is a little different, Mary, from a traditional Mardi Gras parade, isn't it? Although a lot of the floats are the same ones they bring out every year.

MATALIN: Well, the very, very special floats will be a little taste of Mardi Gras, which already had everybody in a festive mood. But to add on to the previous comments and Donna will agree, this comes on top of an amazing, unprecedented mayoral race over the weekend. A couple of Grammy victories, the first Hall of Famer, I mean, this rebirth is going to make us better than we ever were.

BLITZER: James, as you think back to what happened then as opposed to now, it's hard to believe how impressive this rebuilding of New Orleans has been.

CARVILLE: Well, Wolf, it was less than 4 1/2 years ago, and a lot of really impressive things have happened here. We have -- we got, still, you know, considerable work left to do, but this is -- this really helps us in a lot of ways, the mayor's race, a lot of things have happened down here that are positive recently. And I know that back in September of 2005, we could have never imagined that we'd be having a night like this.

BLITZER: Yes, and it's only just beginning. We're going to have full coverage of this parade. We're not going to go away from other news. We'll full coverage of all of the news of the day. But this is a celebration for the people of New Orleans, how far they have come since August of 2005, when the city almost, almost disappeared.

We'll continue our coverage of the Super Bowl celebration, the victory parade in New Orleans and a lot more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC)

BLITZER: Cyril Neville, remember the Neville Brothers? They wrote this song about New Orleans and the New Orleans Saints. Let's listen for another second.

(MUSIC)

BLITZER: All right. We're going to be speaking with Cyril Neville. That's coming up. You see the parade only just beginning. Really, the initial formalities are just starting. We're going to have complete coverage.

But let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now. He's got the "Cafferty File."

A lot of excitement, Jack, in New Orleans.

JACK CAFFERTY, CAFFERTY FILE: Four and a half years after Hurricane Katrina devastated that city, New Orleans finally has something to celebrate with its Super Bowl victory. Some people are saying the Saints' first championship win in the team's 42-year history is maybe the greatest thing that could have happened to that city. The city's spirits have been lifted and it promises to be a Mardi Gras season, the likes of which New Orleans has maybe never seen before, although they've had some pretty good ones.

It's been a long time coming. A very long four years since that horrible day when Katrina roared to shore and tore the life out of one of the really special cities in this country. Katrina flooded 80 percent of New Orleans, killed 1,500 people, and drove tens of thousands more from their homes and from the city never to return.

It destroyed the economy, but it didn't kill the Big Easy spirit. Today, renewal is breaking out everywhere in New Orleans. The day before the Super Bowl, they elected a new mayor, the first white mayor in 30 years. He's promising to bridge the racial divide that grew ever wider under Ray Nagin.

Mitch Landrieu won 66 percent of the vote in an 11-candidate field. That is a huge win in a city that's more than 60 percent African- American. Landrieu has his work cut out for him, including lowering one of the highest crime rates in the country, rebuilding the schools and, of course, the ongoing recovery from Katrina, including houses, infrastructure, hospitals et cetera. A lot of work to do.

But today -- today, New Orleans is a very happy place, and the rest of us are very happy for them.

Here's the question: How important is the Saints' Super Bowl victory for the city of New Orleans? Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. You can post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Yes, it's hugely important. And we're so proud of New Orleans, the Saints and what they've done for that community.

We're going to continue our coverage of the parade. It's only just beginning. You can see some of the folks getting ready for it. You'll be interested in this. We'll watch it. We'll get some of the jazz, some of the excitement. Much more of the coverage -- coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Two of the most prominent sites during the Hurricane Katrina disaster back in 2005 are the start and the finish of points of today's parade for the New Orleans Saints.

CNN's Tom Foreman is over at the magic wall to show us this parade route.

Tom, the parade route, I should say, where are people lining the streets? I take it's about 3.7 miles, the complete parade route?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Wolf, I got to tell you, the path could not be any better or more symbolic. Look at this -- this was New Orleans right after the storm hit in 2005. You can see the water all through here, all of the many places up here in mid-city and all of the places so badly affected. Then we fade it forward to today. And I'll tell you this: all eyes right now are going to be on the parade route as we move in toward it right here near the Superdome. And this is the starting zone. We all remember what the Superdome looked like on that day. This is where the beginning, right up in here.

The Superdome at that time -- remember, it was packed with people trying to get away from the storm, the roof was destroyed. This was for, those of us who have lived in New Orleans and loved New Orleans, just heartbreaking to see what people went through there, this great symbol of the city and all of the suffering that went on there. That's where it's all beginning now, this rebirth of what's happening.

And then, as I play the route here, I want you to just watch this as we move forward here. As little Saints helmet moves down here, down Howard, down here to Lee's Circle, this is at -- this is where St. Charles Avenue runs up this right up here to Lafayette Square. This is where James and Mary are right now. This is where they salute people in the great Mardi Gras tradition when the parades come down this way. Many of the most important parades come right through this area. Interestingly enough, St. Charles Avenue, one of the most renowned avenues in the entire country, was also an old natural levee, so very symbolic there.

As we move on, Wolf, they're going to head up here to Canal Street, another important Mardi Gras route.

And another place that we want to look at what's happening, because as they go down Canal, think about this -- this is the French Quarter right over here. This was the French Quarter right after the storm hit, and this is really the heart of the old city of New Orleans, and it's a living, breathing community. This was the French Quarter just a few days ago. Huge celebration there with so many of us, as I said, Wolf, who waited so many decades for this to happen, not really able to believe it did happen.

They're going to continue on from this area. I'm going to hit play again over here and just watch as the helmets move down Canal Street and then they're going to come right down here to the waterfront. This was a revitalized area around the World's Fair in the 1980s. They really hoped to make things happen there.

But this also was the place where right here at the convention center, we had so much trouble during the storm. You remember the scenes there of people actually dying in the streets outside the convention center as Katrina had passed, in its wake. It was terrible, terrible times.

But I'll tell you, beyond this, Wolf, what's important to realize is this area is also cutting through some of the most remarkable revitalization of any American city right now, Wolf. That's what makes this parade so important to so many people.

BLITZER: Such a powerful and symbolic moment for the rebuilding of New Orleans.

All right. The bands have started to coming down the streets. Ed Lavandera is on the scene for us.

Ed, tell us where you are and what you are seeing.

LAVANDERA: Hey, Wolf, this is a great moment.

This is the St. Augustine High School Band, and this is one of the premier marching bands of high schools here in the city of New Orleans. They have a long history here in the city. This is the first African-American high school band that ever performed in the Rex parade on Mardi Gras days. So, this is a great band to kick off this parade here this afternoon.

BLITZER: Ed, let's listen in a little bit to the Purple Knights and the St. Augustine High School.

LAVANDERA: Right. Yes. You know, they call themselves the Marching 100. And they have a long, long history here in the city.

I don't know if you can hear me earlier what I was talking about, they were the first African-American high school band to perform on the Mardi Gras Rex parade on Mardi Gras days. So, that's a big deal.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Ed, I want to interrupt you because the Budweiser Clydesdales are coming through right now. I hope we got that of the Clydesdales, a feature in New Orleans at these -- at these Mardi Gras parades.

Let's see if we can get those Budweiser Clydesdales, and we saw them briefly right after the St. Augustine High School marching band. But I like to get that picture up there if we can show it. Obviously, we're having a little trouble showing the Budweiser Clydesdales. But let's hope we could see that.

Donna Brazile, this must bring back lots of memories for you. You were a little girl who grew up there.

BRAZILE: When I grew up, every year, my parents would take us downtown to see the parades. As you mentioned, the Purple Knights, that's one of the best marching bands in the country, a great school as well.

And as you know, Wolf, this tradition began perhaps in the latter part of the 16th century when (INAUDIBLE) came to a point in New Orleans and said, this is the Mardi Gras. It has a long tradition. It weaves its way through Mobile, Alabama. But for the New Orleanian, Mardi Gras is our national holiday and that is something that we tell each other that we didn't even know that it wasn't a national holiday until we grew up and went to high school and found out that only those of us in the gulf region celebrate Mardi Gras every year.

BLITZER: Yes, I don't know if James Carville and Mary Matalin are with us. I don't think they are. But we're going to get back to them, bring them into this conversation.

Ed Lavandera, you're still there on the scene for us. What are we seeing?

LAVANDERA: Well, Wolf, I was just looking down the street toward the Superdome and that first float is probably about two blocks away from where we are. So, this will be our first glimpse of Tom Benson and his family, the owners of the New Orleans Saints.

And we've talked a lot about it in recent days of just how much -- much of a -- he's almost kind of a polarizing figure in many ways, Tom Benson here in the city of New Orleans. Remember -- in the months after Hurricane Katrina, he had been flirting with the idea of moving the Saints out of New Orleans. He wasn't sure that there was going to be enough business climate here in New Orleans after, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, to bring this football team back to New Orleans, and that pretty much sent off an angry stream from the folks who live here in New Orleans. They couldn't imagine their city without the New Orleans Saints. And many people here considered it a slap in the face that he would even consider moving the team away from this beloved city in the city's darkest hour.

So, it will be interesting to see the people's reaction to Tom Benson as he comes along, but as we've walked into places all around town, Wolf, it's kind of interesting, either people love him or hate him. And they say that even though he did that four years ago and flirted with that idea of moving the Saints out of town, the Saints are now Super Bowl champions. So, you run into a lot of people who say he's a hero and a lot of people who still consider him a villain.

But regardless, he is someone who has enjoyed having this football team here in New Orleans and revels in these kinds of moments. And he's very well-known for dancing his way off of the football field --

BLITZER: Yes.

LAVANDERA: -- when the New Orleans Saints win football games.

BLITZER: All right. Ed, you probably can't --

LAVANDERA: So, we will see him here shortly as --

BLITZER: You probably can't see it, but we're looking at some of those New Orleans Saints and number nine is Drew Brees, the quarterback, who led the New Orleans Saints to victory. There he is right there. He is throwing -- Donna, what it is he's throwing? Beads up --

BRAZILE: Some beads.

BLITZER: He is throwing out some celebratory stuff, but he is the hero of this game. He was MVP of the game, and you see him and some of his friends from the New Orleans Saints. They're getting ready to party. This is only just beginning. But there he is atop that float right there, Drew Brees.

Donna, that means a lot to the people of New Orleans.

BRAZILE: Well, you know, right after the storm hit us, and, of course, we had another storm. It was not just Hurricane Katrina that destroyed much of my beloved hometown, but her nasty twin sister Rita forced the evacuation and even more of Southern Louisianans.

But Drew Brees came along right as we needed a quarterback, somebody to help move the team back into the Superdome. The team was able to come back on September 25th, 2006.

And I have to tell this: there is a special bond between the New Orleanians and the New Orleans Saints. We love that team. We love Drew. Drew has really been the spirit behind the comeback of the New Orleans Saints.

And despite all of the years of losing, we've had quite a wonderful attendance at the Superdome. So, thank God for Drew Brees and that entire offensive line. And, of course, my favorite number 5, the pick, Mr. Hartley, that's my favorite. I took a picture of him, Wolf. You would be a little embarrassed to see me kissing that man, but I love him, too.

BLITZER: You know, because he kicked a great field goal, Garrett Hartley, number five. He did a rally amazing job for New Orleans Saints throughout the entire season, helped them, of course, to get to the Super Bowl.

And then -- there you see Drew Brees. He's got a good arm. He's throwing out some of that stuff.

Tom Foreman, you lived in New Orleans for a few years. You know this city. You know it well. And you can certainly appreciate what the people of New Orleans are going through right now.

FOREMAN: Oh, my gosh, Wolf. And I got to tell you, Drew is riding on one of the Bacchus floats there. And I'm telling you, there's no bigger honor in town than being on one of the Bacchus floats, which normally rolls on Sunday night before Mardi Gras, a huge, huge important parade.

And frankly, there's nothing in New Orleans that shows how important this event is more than -- you talk about what Donna said earlier about this business of what Mardi Gras means to you, when you change the Mardi Gras schedule and you connect the Mardi Gras, you're connecting to the heart of the city.

And there's Tom Benson up there right now. Your can see him in the black hat there in the back there, sort of dancing around.

BLITZER: Yes, he's the owner of the team. And Ed Lavandera was telling us that, you know, he's been controversial, but he's a huge hero in his own right right now.

All right. Let me take a quick break and continue our coverage. This parade is only just beginning.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (MUSIC)

BLITZER: That's Cyril Neville. We're going to be speaking to him and his brother Charles Neville. That's coming up as we watch this parade go on.

The folks are getting excited in New Orleans. They're celebrating not only the Super Bowl champions, the New Orleans Saints, but they're celebrating New Orleans' recovery after Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005. And what a recovery it has been. The entire nation, indeed the entire world, has watched over these years, and it has been one amazing sight.

We're going to be back to the parade momentarily.

But I want to check in with Lisa Sylvester. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What else is going on, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf.

Well, more evidence Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud is dead. Three Taliban sources tell CNN he died on his way to a treatment center in Karachi. Pakistan's state run TV had previously reported Mehsud died after being wounded in a drone attack last week. However, a Taliban spokesman insisted Mehsud was alive and in hiding.

Iranian officials say they've started making much higher grade nuclear fuel under U.N. supervision. This puts the Islamic republic another step closer to having the material needed for a nuclear weapon.

Iran insists its intentions are peaceful saying it now needs to enrich uranium to 20 percent purity. That's a big jump from the current 3.5 percent purity. Iran says that's to fuel a medical research reactor.

The U.N. Security Council has passed three rounds of sanctions against Iran for failing to halt enrichment.

And new video in to CNN of U.S. Marines and Afghan troops as they prepare for one of the biggest offenses of the war in Afghanistan. They will be battling militants in a town considered the last Taliban stronghold in the southern Helmand Province. Generals have been stressing to the troops the importance of distinguishing civilians from the Taliban.

And Somalian pirates, they have released that they've been holding for more than three months. The European Union Naval Corps says a ransom was paid but it didn't say how much. The Panama flagship carries an Indian and Burmese crew of 26. Wolf?

BLITZER: We'll check back with you, Lisa. I know you're also working the latest Toyota developments as well. We'll get a complete update on that.

Lisa Sylvester, reporting. Joining us now on the phone is Cyril Neville. He's one of the Neville brothers, well known as New Orleans' first family of funk, and his brother Charles, also joining us on the phone.

They -- Cyril wrote a song about the Saints that you've been hearing in our parade coverage. We're seeing Drew Brees and some other New Orleans Saints on this float heading -- just as this parade is just beginning.

And Cyril, let me start with you. Tell us a little bit what you're thinking right now as you're seeing this celebration unfold.

CYRIL NEVILLE, SINGER/SONGWRITER (via phone): Well, what I'm thinking is, I wish I was there. And you know, that's -- you know, it's been a long time coming. A lot of people, you know, prayed and waited a long time, and finally, it's here. And it was very well needed and the city definitely needed it.

BLITZER: Because a lot of us remember, Cyril, right after Katrina, you were angry. You were angry at what happened and you even suggested, you know what? Maybe you wouldn't return to New Orleans. Remind us about then and now.

NEVILLE: Well, Wolf, I'm still angry, and -- but since October, I've actually been back in Louisiana. And I've got to say, too, that I didn't write it, I performed it. My mom Danielle wrote it. She's a huge Saints fan.

BLITZER: She wrote the song.

NEVILLE: Yes.

BLITZER: That we've been playing.

NEVILLE: And --

BLITZER: Go ahead.

NEVILLE: Yes. But definitely I'm on my way back home. I was angry then and I'm angry now about some of other things that still need to be fixed, but right now it's time to celebrate these guys and celebrate the beautiful city that we come from.

BLITZER: And Charles, let me bring you in, you're part of the Neville Brothers. What's going through your mind as you see Drew Brees and some other New Orleans Saints going forward on this float?

CHARLES NEVILLE, SINGER/SONGWRITER (via phone): Again, like Cyril, wishing I was here and I'm here on the boat with Art and Aaron as well.

BLITZER: So all four of you are together?

C. NEVILLE: Yes.

BLITZER: The Neville Brothers, together. Wow. Donna Brazile is here.

Donna, how huge of a fan of the Neville Brothers have you been over these years?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I have all of their records. In fact, when I turned 40 Aaron Neville sang "Happy Birthday" to me. They're one of the greatest artists to have come out of New Orleans. Of course we Louie Armstrong, we have Bradford (INAUDIBLE), Marcellus, we have so -- Harry Connick, Jr., we have so many great performers that hail from the great crescent city, but the Neville Brothers are clearly, they're New Orleanians at their core.

BLITZER: And that was Drew Brees himself. That wasn't just some guy wearing number 9, the Drew Brees jersey. That was Drew Brees atop that float.

Tom Foreman, you were telling us -- there it is. There's the shot. Drew Brees on that float. That's a magical float, isn't it?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it really is from the Bacchus parade. It's a big deal down there. You know, Donna, the Neville Brothers, we used to shop in the same grocery store. My wife and I had seen them walking up down the aisle there all the time.

Yes, and I had pointed out in front of Drew here, these are his two backup quarterbacks right in front of him, and down below there, a lot of members of the offensive lines who made this happen, so the Saints sort of showing that teamwork even on the float.

BLITZER: Yes.

FOREMAN: The quarterback there. His lined up front protecting him even as they --

BLITZER: Because if you don't have a good offensive line, you could be the greatest quarterback in the world, but you know what? You need an offensive line to protect you and allow you to have the time to throw those touchdowns.

Charles and Cyril, this is what I want to do. I'm going to play a little bit of the song you wrote about New Orleans and you've performed it.

Cyril, listen to this. I want our viewers to enjoy for a little bit.

(MUSIC)

BLITZER: All right, Cyril, tell us about this song. Why is it so special for you?

CYRIL NEVILLE: My wife wrote the lyrics, and she came up with the melody and my nephew Norman and I performed it, but we all are a huge Saints' fans, I mean, we were kind of exiled in Texas for a while, and one of the things that brought us together and telling about the ones that are still in Austin, Texas myself and big chief Kevin (INAUDIBLE) of the Flame and Arrow Indians. And we would all gather on those Sundays at somebody's house in Austin and watch those games. And that was like, you know, a piece of home. You know, so we've been routing for them and finally, you know, they brought home the gold.

BLITZER: So this is a celebration and a special song about the New Orleans Saints. Cyril Neville, standby. Charles Neville, standby, from the Neville Brothers.

James Carville and Mary Matalin, you guys have crossed the street now. I take it you're with the VIPs. Is that right, James?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, we've got a VIP with us here. Mary, you want to introduce the VIP?

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, not only the senator, she's the sister of our new mayor, the oldest of the nine Landrieu children here in the parish president's box. We've been talking about this. This isn't just for the city, it's for the whole region.

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: Mary, these are all of the parish presidents, because this celebration isn't just for New Orleans, not just for the region, not just for the Gulf Coast, but for the whole nation and maybe even the world.

Mary, we've been getting messages from people all around the world. The ambassador of the Netherlands just called me, people are just -- you know, you know, the underdog had won. The city is coming back and you and James have been phenomenal, just phenomenal.

MATALIN: What do you think about your -- our little mayor's race?

LANDRIEU: Well, he is great. I mean you all -- you know, people kept saying he was going to win by a lot, and I thought he'd win, but this is truly a mandate. You know, 66 percent. He carried every precinct in almost every neighborhood in the city. And I'm so proud of the city, because you know they have passed a vote for unity.

They passed a vote for their future. I think Washington could learn a little bit about this kind of feel-good, get-along and do it for the people. And that's --

MATALIN: Well, what are you looking for tonight, Senator?

LANDRIEU: Oh my goodness. I just want these men on this team to know how much the city is so grateful for their leadership. I got to tell you Drew Brees makes everybody here so proud the way he articulates what we've been through and what it's worth fighting for.

Because this city isn't just for us, it's for the whole country. It's one of the most important places. The wetlands that we've been trying to preserve. The building, the port, and securing, you know, the protection of the city, and these men have articulated this for us in a way.

And Rita Benson, what can we say about the Benson family? MATALIN: Yes. The Benson family, as you all know up there, have been instrumental and that was a big turning point. The other emotional Saints moment was when the team came back.

CARVILLE: Right.

MATALIN: We have the big moment for you, James. (INAUDIBLE) my own husband.

CARVILLE: I know. We got everybody up here. We've got Republicans and (INAUDIBLE). We've got Democrats, the whole -- everybody in the state is up here.

LANDRIEU: All the parish presidents.

CARVILLE: Right.

LANDRIEU: It is all happening right here.

CARVILLE: Yes. It is very important to remember that there are 1.2 million people in the metropolitan area, I know that half of those are out here tonight or more.

LANDRIEU: And we've got legislators from Shreveport, from Monroe, that drove down. This is a celebration for the whole state and the who-dat nation.

MATALIN: Yes. Well, they're who dat -- who dat.

CARVILLE: Who dat.

MATALIN: Donna, you have to who dat.

BRAZILE: Who dat!

BLITZER: All right, guys. I want everybody to stand by. James Carville and Mary Matalin, they are our CNN political contributors, a Democrat and a Republican. Don't agree on a lot of politics, but they do agree on New Orleans. They do agree on Mitch Landrieu, the newly elected mayor of New Orleans. We're going to speak to him. We're going to speak to a lot more.

We're trying to get Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana. He's there as well. We want to hear from all of the political sides on this day. Donna Brazile is with me, they can all agree on one thing. New Orleans has come back.

All right, we'll take a quick break. We'll continue our coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Saints, for a number of years, fantastic linebacker, Brett Adelman. (INAUDIBLE) Saints.

BLITZER: All right. So this parade is getting started and some of the folks are being introduced right now, but we have a special guest who is joining us, Chef Paul Prudhomme. He is on the phone. He is so well known, so beloved that when it comes to New Orleans and food, especially little Cajun food.

Talk to us a little bit, Chef, about what this means for you today?

CHEF PAUL PRUDHOMME, OWNER, K-PAUL'S RESTAURANT: Yes. This is one of the great days for the city of New Orleans and for the people of New Orleans. And I think it's even more to the people than it is to the city in so many ways, because we are in love with the Saints, and we have been for a long time. And so here they are loving us back. And you can't find better than that, man.

BLITZER: As we watch these floats go by, Chef, how has New Orleans changed since Katrina, until this very day, the Super Bowl celebration? Because for those of us who've been there over the past few years, it's really remarkable what has happened.

PRUDHOMME: Well, what happened was since the storm, is that, you know, we've just had a big struggle. And that so many things that took place that you wouldn't believe that it would, and, you know, there were people that came and helped us, and did so much for the city.

And in the same time, we didn't get our conventions back yet, and so, it has been a struggle all of the way, but we are tough. We are New Orleanians, and we're Saints fans and man, we ain't giving up for nothing.

BLITZER: Yes. We're looking at some of the players from the New Orleans Saints. They're signing autographs. They're celebrating. Certainly they are thrilled. Earlier we saw Drew Brees, the MVP, from the Super Bowl,

Chef, Donna Brazile, she's here with us as well. She has a question she wants to ask you.

You know, Donna, this is someone who's legendary in New Orleans.

BRAZILE: Well, Chef, as you all know, I know the holy trinity. I know what -- I know how to make my red beans and rice for next week, but is there any special recipe we should look forward to based on the victory of the New Orleans Saints?

PRUDHOMME: Well, I think that they've just good food is going to be what the Saints, but I'll tell you, there are so many things that chicken (INAUDIBLE) and smoked sausage and gumbo. I mean, you know, you've got to have that, you know? Corn and -- corn soup is one of the things that we love.

Jalapeno pie, and I mean, that's a big thing here in New Orleans. The Bourbon Street pecan spiced -- cookies, I mean, buffalo wings that we do our way here in New Orleans and I can go on and on and on.

(LAUGHTER) BLITZER: Chef -- this is Paul Prudhomme, the great chef of New Orleans. If Drew Brees and a few other players walked in to your kitchen and you were going to give them a little meal tonight, what would you serve them?

PRUDHOMME: Well, I got to tell you that if you would get to talk to him, Drew will tell you that he's been to the restaurant many times with his family and that he looks at it as a winning weekend in New Orleans that he has to come to the restaurant, in K-Paul's Louisiana kitchen.

And so it's wonderful that they participated with the restaurant, and we participate with them in what they do, and it's just a great good thing going.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman, you know the chef. You've, I'm sure, eaten this food. Talk to him a little bit.

(LAUGHTER)

FOREMAN: Chef, I got to tell you. There's nothing like eating your food and you know that. I'm looking at the rex float right now which has all the receivers on it, which is sort of appropriate, Wolf, because rex is king of the carnival, and certainly Drew Brees will tell you in a heartbeat the receivers out there are his kings out there.

Chef, let me ask you a question. New Orleans food has got that extra spice. Do you think that's what made them receiving so fast this year? What -- tell them the secret.

PRUDHOMME: Well, the secret is the herbs and spices that you don't put -- you don't make it too hot. You know? One of the things that happened at Orleans was one of the places in the world that uses herbs and spices and when I started the restaurant 30 years ago, you know, it was very little spices used around, and so, now everybody understands that herbs and spices, if you balance them, it's going to make anything -- anything that you put in your mouth is going to make you happy and that's what our job is, man. Making people happy.

BLITZER: Well, you're looking at a lot of happy people in New Orleans right now. And a lot of people watching the coverage with big smiles.

Chef Paul Prudhomme of New Orleans, thanks very much for celebrating a little bit with us. I'm getting hungry just speaking with you. I know Paul -- I know, Paul, that Donna Brazile and Tom Foreman are as well.

All right, stand by. Everyone, stand by because we're continuing our coverage of the celebration in New Orleans right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right, this is the celebration. This is one of these great floats, Donna Brazile. You see the football players. These are not just guys hanging out wearing jerseys of the New Orleans Saints. These are the New Orleans Saints themselves. And they're celebrating as they should.

But let's put all of this into some sort of context and perspective. It may be a joyous occasion right now, but it was very, very different back in August of 2005.

Listen to this report that came into THE SITUATION ROOM on that date from CNN's Jeanne Meserve. She was one of the first correspondents to tell the world about the massive devastation unleashed by Hurricane Katrina.

Listen closely. Some of the audio is difficult to hear.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Our Jeanne Meserve is in New Orleans. She's joining us on the phone right now.

Jeanne, where are you?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: We are traveling on I-10 and then the road just goes under water. The flooding here is (INAUDIBLE). I cannot tell you what we have seen and we have driven along this highway.

An entire ward of this city, the Ninth Ward, appears to be up to its rooftops in water. We spoke to a city councilman who's been out there trying to rescue people. There are (INAUDIBLE). There are people in these houses clearly. (INAUDIBLE) We saw it after Betsy, people got up there, there was no way to exit.

The councilman to whom we spoke with was very concerned that people in their houses, some of them in places where the water is lower, might think it was only four feet deep, but if they stepped outside their houses, they would drown.

There have been bodies seen here. I haven't personally seen one, but I know others have seen at least one, and it is just unbelievable. I told you earlier today, I didn't think this had turned our to be Armageddon. I was wrong.

Wolf, this is amazing and horrifying to see.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Yes, that was then. Jeanne Meserve is with us right now. Donna, you remember those days as well. I mean, it really helps explain why this celebration today is so meaningful, not just to the folks of New Orleans but to the world what that city has gone through.

MESERVE: Sure. I mean nothing is going to erase those memories of Katrina, nothing should erase those images, but it's wonderful to have a counterpoint, to see the country -- city coming together, to see the joy, to see the happiness.

There's one vignette that I don't think I ever talked about on the air that really has stuck with me. When I went to the Superdome the day after the storm, there was squalor, there was discontent, people were unhappy, but there was a group of kids, probably aged 8 to 14, down on the field. Pretending they were these guys.

And they were having the time of their lives. Their lives had just been shredded. They had been totally displaced, but they were down there pretending that they were the New Orleans Saints.

And they were having a fantastic afternoon, and to have this sort of bookend that experience is really pretty wonderful, pretty special.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, that's a powerful story, think about those kids celebrating the New Orleans Saints.

MESERVE: Exactly.

BLITZER: As Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. How they must be feeling right now.

Donna, you had a lot of family who struggled in those days.

BRAZILE: Absolutely. You know, Wolf, 80 percent of the city has returned. There are still so many New Orleanians who are still displaced. And I know today their hearts are really full because they're really anxious to get back home. But it was personal.

It was more than just a tragedy on TV. It was your family, it was your friends, it's the people you grew up with, waiting to hear from them, waiting to see if anybody would go and pull them out of the water.

As you remember, Wolf, I came on air just to get one of my siblings. And it's emotional because, you know, we had to really fight to get people airlifted out, and I want to thank the 82nd Airborne, the Louisiana coast guard, so many volunteers, the police department, people who stayed, people in the hospital, my sister, who was there rescuing people, still at the hospital, getting people out of harm's way.

This was a great tragedy, but the American people reached out. They helped us, they took in many of our families, our evacuee evacuees, and they gave them -- you know, a place to sleep and some place to call home.

And of course, we've got to thank the people of Texas. They took in a lot of Louisianans, and I'll tell you one thing, they're cooking gumbo in Texas, too.

BLITZER: Yes. Let's not forget General Russell (INAUDIBLE).

BRAZILE: Yes.

BLITZER: He's going to be joining us. He came in and he took charged and he saved lives and did amazing work.

All right, some context, you know, as I was hearing both of you speak, I can only hope and all of us can only pray that 4 1/2, five years from now there'll be a celebration in Haiti and all of us will remember the devastation but will remember what has been achieved over these years as well.

We can only hope and pray that that happens. All right, we'll go back to the festivities, the celebration in New Orleans, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A little show of force, the police in New Orleans right now. They're celebrating as well. Thanks to the police officers of New Orleans for what they are doing.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now for "The Cafferty File." Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is, how important is the Saints Super Bowl victory for the city of New Orleans? It's huge.

Mike in New Orleans writes, "It's beyond the Super Bowl victory, Jack. It's about surviving and then thriving. It's about shredding an image and defying the stereotypes that our city and our people have been branded with for decades. This is a new New Orleans, and the Saints' victory makes it official."

George in New York writes, "I saw a man near tears with joy on CNN this evening. All because his team had overcome the odds at last. Winning gives people hope. It gives regular people the day-to-day courage to go on. It suggest that we, too, can rise above history and succeed.

"Our roots grow deeper with the pride of a winning team. We feel like we were part of the victory, like we helped."

Mike in Quebec, "Not so much. A Super Bowl win will not help build a house, put food on the table. Sure it's great. We all like our city to win the championship. But at the end of the day, nothing changes except maybe ticket prices next year."

Paul writes from New Orleans, "New Orleans like Detroit, the bellwether of problem solving for everything that's wrong in this country. What they do will be indicative of how the rest of the country will track."

Brad writes, "As someone who has volunteered in the rebuilding effort and experiences firsthand the resolve of the people of New Orleans, I can't stress enough how important this win is. After all the city has been through this victory provides a sense of accomplishment.

"It improves the local psyche, and most of all, it demonstrates New Orleans is not gone but more vibrant that ever."

And Willow writes from Iowa, "It's very important. For many people in New Orleans, this is their first big sign that their world is coming back to normal. That it'll be fixed. I have friends in New Orleans, and the tears and the happiness over this championship are truly amazing."

If you want to read more about this, and you should, because there are some truly inspirational e-mail that I've been getting on this question, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile. It will make you feel better. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thanks so much for doing that. And I just want to reset for our viewers joining us here at the top of the hour, we're watching history unfold in New Orleans right now.

These are various metropolitan area police and fire vehicles. It's the formal start of this massive Super Bowl celebration, this parade in New Orleans, celebrating the win of the New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl. The city has come back oh so dramatically over these past 4 1/2 years. There they are.