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Manzella rides Super Bowl euphoria to camp

Manzella rides Super Bowl euphoria to camp

HOUSTON -- The sight of grown men crying and strangers hugging one another in the middle of the dingy streets served as an inspiring reminder for Astros shortstop Tommy Manzella of how a professional sports team can bring a city together.

Manzella, born and raised in the New Orleans area, was in the thick of the celebration on Sunday night -- and Monday morning -- following the Saints' 31-17 win over the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, a victory that gave the Crescent City its first major professional sports championship.

Less than two weeks before the start of Spring Training, Manzella can't help but dream about helping to bring a similar party to Houston, which has never celebrated a World Series champion in nearly 50 years as a Major League city.

"I can't tell you how inspiring it is knowing that you have an opportunity to do that every year," Manzella said. "That's what we're fighting for -- to get that same kind of trophy celebration and to bring Houston its first World Series championship. I can't imagine anything would be better than that.

"I would imagine almost the same kind of large-scale celebration going on here. You see something like that, and it's inspiring to me. If we get the right chemistry and the right group of guys together, something like that is possible."

A Saints season-ticket holder for four years, Manzella refused to divulge how much money he spent on New Orleans Super Bowl championship merchandise on Monday, only to say he had "enough Saints gear to outfit our entire team if need be."

Manzella considered going to Miami for the game but decided to watch it at a Tulane University-area bar with some friends and soak up the atmosphere in the city. Even when the Saints fell behind, 10-0, in the first quarter, none of the fans panicked, Manzella said. They had seen the Saints work their way back from deficits a few times this season.

While leading, 24-17, the Saints iced the game when Tracy Porter intercepted a Peyton Manning pass and returned it 74 yards for a game-clinching -- and party-inducing -- touchdown.

"When Tracy Porter ran that ball back for a touchdown, I don't think I've ever been around a bigger explosion of a celebration," Manzella said. "After that we were just kind of looking at each other with our hands on our heads. We were asking, 'Are we really going to win the Super Bowl?' "

Manzella and his pals tried to make it to the epicenter of the jubilation in the French Quarter, but the crowds were massive. So the party came to them.

"No matter where you went, it was a huge block party," he said. "People were cutting off traffic and setting up DJ stands and dancing in the street."

Less than five years earlier, these same streets were flooded after Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed the city and filled Manzella's childhood home with 14 feet of water. The city persevered, rebuilt itself and, on one unforgettable Sunday, was on top of the world.

"It's hard to grasp what it feels like to go through that and to have a team like the Saints and what they can do for a city," Manzella said. "I'm sure a lot of people can't understand how a game of football can inspire a city, but New Orleans is one of the most prideful cities in America.

"It's a different culture down here. There's been a love-fest between the team and the city since the hurricane. When you put a team like that together with a bunch of castoffs, it's a team the city can really relate to. I don't think the celebration will end any time soon."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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