NEW ORLEANS — Bob and Betty Washington, decked out in long strings of Mardi Gras beads, happily sipped drinks on Pat O'Brien's courtyard, lulled by the warm sun and the sound of the fountain at the famous French Quarter bar.
It's not quite the weekend they were expecting when they first planned the trip, however. Back then, they were looking forward to Super Bowl weekend.
"We made our reservations when we thought the Super Bowl would be here," Betty Washington said. "We thought we'd be trying to crash parties and get tickets. But this way, we get some Mardi Gras action and can make the Super Bowl parties at home."
High rollers in limousines and football fans in team colors were supposed to flood into New Orleans this weekend. But the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks pushed the big game back seven days — to the weekend when the first major Carnival parades were supposed to roll. Although Mardi Gras is Feb. 12, many parades generally start 10 to 12 days before the final celebration.
This town isn't big enough to handle two such major events in one weekend. So the Carnival parades were moved up a week.
Tourists were not the only ones affected by the switch.
Like the Mardi Gras parade clubs, the National Automobile Dealers Association had to move its annual convention ahead one week to accommodate the Super Bowl.
The NFL paid the car dealers $7.5 million, contributed $500,000 to a NADA charity and produced about $5 million in public service announcements designed to "humanize" the people that sell automobiles, according to NADA spokesman David Hyatt.
The swap also involved scrambling to trade 16,000 hotel rooms and convention space between the NFL and NADA.
"Everything worked out really well with the NFL," Hyatt said. "Their cooperation was outstanding. We lost about 40 exhibitors with the swap, but we signed more than that back and our attendance this weekend is higher than any other time we've held our convention in New Orleans."
Switching dates for the parades was also costly to the league. The league paid $5,000 to each of the 11 parade clubs that moved from Feb. 3 to this weekend.
"It's a very difficult thing to move one of these parades," said Arthur Hardy, publisher of Mardi Gras Guide. "There are expenses involved, and there is a lot of work to it."
All the chaos could have one benefit for the procrastinating tourist: There are still hotel rooms to be had in New Orleans.
"There are rooms available this weekend, even Super Bowl weekend and for Mardi Gras," said Beverly Gianna of the New Orleans Tourist and Convention Bureau. "But you have to look for them. You don't just call up and get a room anywhere."
The same is true with the city's restaurants. Bookings were brisk, but few were sold out.
At Mike Ditka's, the restaurant founded by the former New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears coach, the private dining rooms were mostly booked for all three events and reservations were being made at a good clip.
"This is more a family weekend," said Sylvia Alfortish, who runs the restaurant. "We're right on the parade routes, so a lot of families come in this weekend. From here on out, it's just crazy every day."