By Keith Spera, The Times-Picayune
February 13, 2010, 9:05AM drew brees parade square pass boyd.jpgG. Andrew Boyd / The Times-PicayuneDrew Brees tosses a Bacchus football during the Saints' victory parade in New Orleans on Feb. 9, 2010.When the Krewe of Bacchus rolls Sunday during the final weekend of Mardi Gras, the specially designed king’s float bearing Drew Brees will be stocked with 10,000 commemorative black and gold foam footballs. That’s not nearly enough. In a remarkable confluence of timing, events and luck, Bacchus is poised to parade in front of possibly the largest crowd in the superkrewe’s illustrious 42-year history. The Carnival season’s climax is also a final exclamation point on the Saints’ historic Super Bowl season. Team owner Tom Benson and his granddaughter Rita Benson LeBlanc ride today in Endymion. On Monday, coach Sean Payton lords over Orpheus. But among Saints heroes, Brees reigns supreme. And Bacchus got him. A week ago, the largest TV audience in history watched Brees guide the Saints to a Super Bowl championship. Post-game images of the quarterback clutching the Vince Lombardi Trophy and his one-year-old son Baylen graced scores of newspapers and magazines. He subsequently embarked on a whirlwind media blitz: A Disney World parade and the Letterman show on Monday; the Saints victory parade on Tuesday; a taping of “The Ellen Degeneres Show” in Los Angeles on Wednesday; and “Oprah” in Chicago on Friday. Bacchus does not always present celebrity monarchs at the height of their careers. Jon Lovitz in 2003 and Michael Keaton in 2006 come to mind. By contrast, Brees is, in baseball terms, a grand slam. The theme of Bacchus this year? “Love is in the Air.” And much of it will be directed at Brees. Tuesday’s Saints parade triggered a hurricane evacuation in reverse: All major New Orleans area highways were bumper-to-bumper with inbound traffic. On Sunday, Brees’ Bacchus coronation will draw another epic crowd. And that crowd will clamor for his souvenir throws. After the Saints won the NFC Championship Game, Bacchus executive director Owen Brennan III sent a text to the krewe’s overseas supplier: “There’s not enough footballs in all of China. Get me as many as you can.” drew brees parade bacchus stuff.JPGEliot Kamenitz / The Times-PicayuneThe items Drew Brees and his fellow riders on the Bacchus king's float will throw include foam footballs, baseball caps with a fiber optic logo, Bacchus medallions, blinking heart-shaped medalliions, gold king's float beads and black, gold and wine colored doubloons bearing Brees' likeness.Forty-two years ago, Owen “Pip” Brennan Jr., the founder and current captain of Bacchus, conceived of a celebrity monarch to promote both his new parade and New Orleans. He is still involved in the selection process, along with his son Owen III and a small committee of krewe officials. They start with such A-list names as Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, but “you usually get knocked off that pedestal pretty quickly,” Owen Brennan III said. The biggest stars tend to be too busy to commit nearly a week to Mardi Gras, especially months in advance. So the committee moves down the list to “who’s popular, who’s been popular in the past and is having a comeback, who still relates to the general population, young and old,” Brennan said. “That’s the process we go through every year.” Committee members pool their entertainment world contacts and “work through the layers” of agents and managers. Musicians and sports figures have proved especially difficult to book, so actors dominate the ranks of Bacchus royalty. Past kings often help solicit their successors. Since riding last year, Val Kilmer has called to pitch names of fellow actors. Elijah Wood, Bacchus 2004, offered to recruit his “Lord of the Rings” co-star Sean Austin for 2005, provided Wood was allowed to ride again. “At the king’s party, Elijah got down on one knee and handed the crown over to Sean, like a passing of the torch,” Brennan said. “Fun things like that happen when past kings get involved.” Pro wrestler Hulk Hogan proclaimed himself the “final” king, arguing that any aspiring monarch must first beat him in a steel cage match. “They all want to come back,” Brennan said. The krewe extended its formal invitation to Brees in early December, after weeks of informal inquiries. “It wasn’t a hard sell,” Brennan said. “He was thrilled to death and immediately accepted.” The Bacchus organization wanted him regardless of how the Saints season ended.
“Truthfully, we’re not honoring Drew for his accomplishments on the football field,” Brennan said. “His philanthropy, what he does for children…he’s an incredible ambassador for New Orleans. He’s a pillar of our community. You could not pick a better man in the city of New Orleans to be the king of Bacchus. “If the Saints had lost in the opening round of the playoffs, it would not have diminished one iota our excitement to have Drew be the king.” drew brees parade horizontal toast kamenitz.jpgEliot Kamenitz / The Times-PicayuneThe entire city will toast Drew Brees when he rides as the King of Bacchus on Sunday, Feb. 14. Brees took a practice ride during the Saints' victory parade on Feb. 9.Selecting a quarterback in the midst of a championship quest presented logistical challenges. Usually a Bacchus delegation meets with the chosen king weeks before the parade to review the schedule and other details. But there could be no distractions for Brees during the Saints’ playoff run. Instead, Brennan worked with Brees’ wife, Brittany, and his marketing agent, Chris Stuart. “It’s been very challenging,” Brennan said. “But we’ve always said if the Saints win the Super Bowl, and Drew is the MVP, and he’s king of Bacchus in the same week, nothing else matters.” Kings help design their costumes to reflect their personalities. Nicholas Cage, for instance, insisted on a black trench coat trimmed with black ostrich feathers.
Brees, too, had input on his royal garment. “It’s sharp,” Brennan said. “It will be really cool.” No. 9 is only the third homegrown Bacchus. Pete Fountain reigned in 1980, followed by Harry Connick Jr. in 1983. Connick apparently had such a good time that he founded his own krewe, Orpheus. In 2007, Brees served as the Bacchus grand marshal a week after dislocating his left elbow in the Pro Bowl. His enthusiasm during Tuesday’s Saints parade — essentially a dress rehearsal for Sunday — made Brennan nervous: “Several times I had to say, ‘Hey, buddy, I need you back in the float, not hanging off the float.’” Various krewes loaned floats to the victory parade; Brees was aboard the traditional Bacchus king’s float. But for Bacchus itself, Brees wanted to ride alongside his wife, the board of directors of his charitable Brees Dream Foundation, and the Saints offensive line. Space was also needed for the Bacchus pages and an enhanced security team. So for the past three weeks, Blaine Kern Studios has scrambled to build a new, larger king’s float. On the suggestion of studio president Barry Kern, the design incorporated a piece of Bacchus history: A decades-old chariot once pulled by a horse and ridden by a parade marshal. Exhumed from a warehouse and refurbished, it is mounted atop the new king’s float. dree brees parade horizontal float kamenitz.jpgEliot Kamenitz / The Times-PicayuneDuring the Saints' victory parade, Drew Brees and the Saints offensive line rode aboard the traditional Bacchus king's float. But for Brees' ride on Sunday, Bacchus designed a new, larger king's float.It also sports an entirely novel amenity for a Bacchus float: A women’s restroom. Brittany Brees and members of the foundation delegation are apparently the first-ever officially sanctioned female riders in Bacchus. Despite his globe-trotting schedule, Brees planned to attend this weekend’s Bacchus king’s party and membership brunch, and visit Children’s Hospital. His Bacchus affiliation has an additional charitable element. The krewe sold a thousand commemorative lithographs depicting Brees and Bacchus floats to its members for $250 apiece. Proceeds benefit the Brees Dream Foundation. Don’t expect to catch a lithograph during Sunday’s parade. But several throws will be available exclusively from the king’s float. Look for white Bacchus baseball caps with fiber optic logos; a flashing plastic heart emblazoned with a stylized “B”; gold “King of Bacchus” beads; a ceramic Bacchus logo suspended from a red and gold cord; and black and gold foam footballs emblazoned with a fleur de lis. As another Saints tribute, Bacchus for the first time minted its commemorative king’s doubloons not just in the traditional wine tint, but in black and gold. The doubloons bear Brees’ likeness and, at his request, his signature. Around 100,000 will be thrown from the king’s float. “This will be the one doubloon to have,” Brennan said. Normally Bacchus takes about three-and-a-half hours to complete its route. “But if Tuesday night was any indication, this may be more like six,” Brennan said. “I hope we get in before midnight.” Not that he’ll mind a long ride before large crowds. “We’re proud, thrilled and honored to have Drew Brees as our king. This is once in a lifetime. You could not have written a better story.”