"Super Gras": When Super Bowl, Mardi Gras collide

(CBS News) New Orleans has never said "no" to a party. But when the Super Bowl came calling the same time of year as Mardi Gras, it turned into a real juggling act.

The combination of the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras season may be the biggest tourist event that New Orleans has ever seen. Mardi Gras season with the Super Bowl sandwiched in the middle of it did inspire some changes that New Orleans has been getting ready for, for three years.

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On the streets of New Orleans, Arthur Hardy is known as "Mr. Mardi Gras." For 37 years, he's written the go-to guide for all things carnival. Hardy explained, "Carnival is the whole season, it always starts on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. Mardi Gras is a single day, it's French for Fat Tuesday, it can be as early as February 3, or as late as March 9, depending on when Easter is. Complicated but we enjoy it."

This year, Mardi Gras falls on February 12, but the typical 12-day parade season leading up to it was expanded to make room for the Super Bowl. Twelve parades were moved -- not an ideal situation for some -- but a change Hardy says had to be made.

He said it wouldn't be possible to do Mardi Gras without splitting it up. "Not in downtown New Orleans," Hardy said, "You just can't fit 20 ounces of water in a 16-ounce glass."

During the two events, which some are calling "Super Gras," the City of New Orleans anticipates more than half a million tourists. Hardy says all 35,000 hotel rooms are sold out.

But the locals are offering more than hospitality -- a 365-foot-long float, $1.5 million float. Creators say, it's the biggest float in the world.

The initial plan was to not do the float for a few more years. The schedule was moved up because of the Super Bowl.

Barry Kern, who, with his family, built the float, said of the decision, "That was the thought. The eyes of the world were gonna be on New Orleans."

Kern and his family have been building floats for nearly a century, for parades all over the globe. But Kern says the ones they make for Mardi Gras in New Orleans are unique.

So who pays for the float? Kern said it's paid for by "the guys that ride the floats." He said there are no corporate sponsors at Mardi Gras.

Kern said, "That's the thing that makes us different from anywhere else in the world. You're never gonna see the name of any brand. We do this for ourselves. Now, we're happy to have you guys come and visit, but we'd be doing it anyway."

And this year, Hardy said, the show won't just go on -- it will be bigger than ever. He explained, "You've got more than 1,000 floats and 50 parades, they're on the street for about 200 hours, cover about 300 miles. It makes no economic sense why people would spend money to wear a mask and pay dues to ride a float and give gifts to strangers, but that's what we do, we do it every year."

For Jeff Glor's full report, watch the video in the player above.

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