Mojo works for fans in Las Vegas

It had to be the shoes.

The hat, too.

With the New Orleans Saints trailing the Indianapolis Colts 17-13 in the third quarter of Super Bowl XLIV, Anthony Trepagnier Jr., claimed he was the victim of a self-inflicted wardrobe malfunction. He went into the bedroom of his Las Vegas home on what is appropriately named Making Memories Place and changed into his black Saints shoes and donned a different Saints hat. When he returned, Drew Brees was leading the Saints on a scoring drive. The Saints would score 18 unanswered points, defeat the Colts 31-17, win the Super Bowl and end 43 years of suffering.

“That was the mojo,” Trepagnier said. “I changed from head to toe!”

Trepagnier works at the Rio as a table games supervisor. His wife, Belinda, is an insurance claims adjuster, and son Anthony III is a senior at Arbor View High School and co-captain of the Aggies basketball team. They were among the hundreds of thousands who fled New Orleans four-plus years ago when Hurricane Katrina hit.

They never returned.

When Katrina unleashed her fury on New Orleans in late August 2005, Brian and Kathy Vignaud were on their own. They, with children Brian Jr. and Victoria, had been longtime friends of the Trepagniers in East New Orleans

The elder Vignaud had family in Southern Nevada, and after a roundabout journey, the Vignauds started anew in the fall of 2005. The Trepagniers got wind of the Vignauds’ whereabouts and left Mississippi, where they were trying to regroup, and headed to Las Vegas late that year and reunited with their friends.

On Sunday, they gathered in the Trepagniers’ living room, ate jambalaya, barbecue shrimp and pasta atchafalaya and rooted like crazy for the Saints.

Well, almost everyone.

Brian Vignaud Jr. and his sister happen to be Colts fans. When asked how he could stray from his hometown team, Vignaud shrugged.

“I kinda fell into it,” he said. “I followed (Colts quarterback) Peyton Manning in college, and I saw him play in high school (at New Orleans’ Cardinal Newman). I mean, I don’t hate the Saints. I went to games when I was a kid. But the Colts are my team.”

His buddy wasn’t going to cut him any slack.

“I don’t know what happened to (Vignaud). The Saints have always been my favorite team,” said the younger Trepagnier, who was decked out in a Reggie Bush Saints jersey. “I always believed they’d be good enough to one day win the Super Bowl and I’d live to see it. It’s pretty amazing.”

For Trepagnier and Vignaud, it might have been the only time in their young lives they were on the opposite sides. For more than 3 hours, they chided each other as the Super Bowl went through its ebb and flow.

It was all good-natured of course. And when the Saints wrested control of the game in the fourth quarter and Tracy Porter intercepted Manning and returned it 74 yards for a touchdown that ensured a Saints’ championship, Trepagnier, his father and his mother gave it to Vignaud good. Even Kathy Vignaud couldn’t resist talking a little smack to her son.

“That’s kinda tough when you hear it from your mom,” he said sheepishly.

For his parents and for the Trepagniers, the Saints’ upset victory erased more than four decades of heartache.

“I remember that very first game they ever played at Tulane Stadium,” the elder Trepagnier said. “They ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown, and we all thought to ourselves, ‘Holy cow, we’re going to the Super Bowl.’

“Of course, it didn’t quite work out that way. There were a lot of lean years. But one thing about Saints fans, they’re extremely loyal. They never give up hope. Even when they wore the bags on their heads. They still showed up.”

Belinda Trepagnier said: “It’s so surreal to see them in the Super Bowl. My phone’s blowing up with family and friends (from New Orleans) calling.”

As the Saints struggled early on and trailed 10-0, the younger Vignaud chirped in his buddy’s ear. Trepagnier’s dad was yelling at coach Sean Payton through the television, imploring him to open up the offense. Of course, the notion that Payton could hear some maniac in Vegas wearing a Joe Horn No. 87 jersey and actually listen to him is absurd.

But this is the Saints, and in a town where voodoo is a somewhat accepted practice, maybe, just maybe, the pleas of a New Orleans native got through telepathically to the coach. Or maybe it was as simple as changing into those black shoes with the gold fleur-de-lis Saints emblem.

All he knows is the Saints were a different team in the second half. From the opening kickoff, which they recovered through an onside kick, to the stellar play of Brees, the game’s Most Valuable Player, to the coup de grace by Porter, the Saints were the better team in South Florida on Sunday.

“I was just in New Orleans the other day,” said the elder Vignaud, who works as a contractor and has been back to his hometown several times since Katrina. “Believe me when I tell you this means so much to the city. People are still suffering back there. But this will help them forget their troubles a little.”

Kathy Vignaud said: “It’s a long time coming, For the city to come back, it’s a blessing for New Orleans that the Saints won the Super Bowl.”

And while her son is in mourning today, everyone is back on the same page. Tonight, the boys play their final home basketball game for Arbor View against Mojave as the Aggies try to make it to the Class 4A playoffs. The Trepagniers and Vignauds will be in the gym together celebrating the moment. They’ll also remember how they’ve rebuilt their lives after losing everything and how for nearly four hours Sunday, they were in lockstep with the rest of the ‘‘Who Dat Nation,’’ though they’re thousands of miles from home.

“It’s a dream come true,” the elder Trepagnier said. “Honestly, I never thought I’d live to see this day. I may even shed a tear or two.”

He was talking about the Saints. But he might cry a little tonight at Arbor View as well.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.

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