| NEW ORLEANS
NEW ORLEANS Democratic strategist, political pundit and media guru James Carville admits there are few things he's more passionate about than the New Orleans Saints.
And despite his zeal, the architect of Bill Clinton's path to the White House insists he's over the angst the rest of the city still feels toward NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
"You just can't obsess on the past," the Louisiana native told Reuters this week in an interview this week during the run-up to Sunday's Super Bowl between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens.
Goodell suspended Saints coach Sean Payton for a year, and levied suspensions of varying lengths to various coaches and players for a "pay for pain" system of bounties.
Although most of the suspensions were ultimately overturned by arbitrator (and former commissioner) Paul Tagliabue, the Saints' 7-9 record this year did not sit well in the Big Easy.
Pictures of Goodell's face have been plastered outside Bourbon Street bars saying in big block letters, "Do not serve."
Carville contends he's no longer angry at Goodell but he is a career politician and he certainly knows you don't want to antagonize the man who makes the decision on who will host the Super Bowl down the road.
"He's a guest of ours and we love having the Super Bowl here," the 68-year-old Carville said with his Bayou drawl and a glint in his eye.
"Put it this way, if you like bacon and bacon being the Super Bowl, let's not fight with the guy that runs the smokehouse. That's not a very good idea."
Goodell joked with reporters about how well he's been treated in New Orleans.
"You know when you look back at it, my picture is in every restaurant," he told reporters. "I had a float in the Mardi Gras parade (a giant vagina eating Goodell). We got a voodoo doll."
But, he added: "I understand the fans' loyalty is to the team. They had no part of this. They were completely innocent in this. So I appreciate the passion."
New Orleans has hosted the Super Bowl nine previous times but Sunday's match-up will be the first since Hurricane Katrina devastated much of the city in 2005.
Judging from the crowds in New Orleans this week and the festive atmosphere, the event has already been a success.
Carville, a longtime Big Easy booster and co-chairman of the Super Bowl 47 Host Committee with wife Mary Matalin, said everywhere he's been this week people are telling him the Super Bowl should be an annual event at the Superdome.
"If I had a dollar for everybody that told me that, I could probably put it on myself," he said. "It's a real culture here. But yet you can have fun, you have good food, the music.
"But the big thing people like that I keep hearing, 'Man we can walk everywhere. We can do everything, we're not stuck in traffic. It's people-friendly.'
"You just keep hearing that over and over."
Carville believes the Saints will rebound next year to 10-6 or 11-5. He is certain the club will move beyond the distractions of this year's bounty scandal.
"They're professional athletes, c'mon," Carville, ever the optimist, said with a broad smile. "That's what they do for a living. They'll be more motivated by it.
"As opposed to putting it behind them but I think they want it ahead of them. It sustains them. Good locker room stuff."
(Editing by John Mehaffey)