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Mardi Gras Penalty Flag Throws: Overcoming Tragedy in New Orleans…Again

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Mardi Gras Penalty Flag Throws for Football Disappointment

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Sadly for Saints fans, when the egregious pass interference (including helmet-to-helmet contact) happened, the sideline official did in fact reach for his flag – but he never pulled it out and threw it. But that won’t be the end of that. You can bet yellow flags will be flying at Mardi Gras.

You know exactly how it went down – that most famous (or infamous) of all penalties that weren’t called. But let’s recap just for fun…

The Infamous No-Call Penalty

penalty flag throws during Mardi Gras 2019

It happened (or, rather didn’t happen) on Sunday, January 20, 2019, in a game that could have – should have – sent the New Orleans Saints to the Super Bowl. And here’s how John Breech, writing for CBS Sports, so aptly described it . . .

“It’s not often that you can get 73,000 people to all agree on something, but everybody inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome [in New Orleans] definitely agreed on one thing after the Rams’ stunning 26-23 win over New Orleans. The Saints got hosed by one of the worst no-calls in NFL history.

“With 1:49 left to play in a 20-20 game and the Saints facing a third-and-10 from the Rams’ 13-yard line, Drew Brees dropped back and threw a pass to Tommy Lee Lewis, and that’s when this happened . . . Nickell Robey-Coleman obliterated Lewis well before the arrival of the ball on a play that screamed pass interference. As a matter of fact, there wasn’t anyone who didn’t think it was a pass interference.

“The 73,028 fans in attendance all thought it was pass interference. Saints coach Sean Payton thought it was a pass interference. Drew Brees thought it was a pass interference. Heck, even Robey-Coleman thought it was a passed interference and the flag would have gone against him.

“Unfortunately for the Saints, the only people alive who didn’t think the play warranted a pass interference penalty were the seven people who mattered: The seven officials in the field.”

So the Saints kicked a 31-yard field goal to take a 23-20 lead. But then the Rams made a 45-yard drive and then kicked their own 48-yard field goal to tie the game and send it into overtime. The Rams then intercepted a Drew Brees pass to set up a 57-yard field goal attempt. The kick was good, so they won the game with 11:43 left in overtime.

Sadly for Saints fans, when the egregious pass interference (including helmet-to-helmet contact) happened, the sideline official did in fact reach for his flag – but he never pulled it out and threw it. But that won’t be the end of that. You can bet yellow flags will be flying at Mardi Gras.

How New Orleanians Deal

Of course, it had to happen in our litigious society: lawsuits brought over the call that wasn’t made. “Frank D’Amico, a New-Orleans-based attorney, is suing the NFL on behalf of Saints season ticket holders to change the outcome of the NFC championship game between New Orleans and the Los Angeles Rams. His suit, filed in civil district court . . . claims a missed pass-interference call against the Rams caused season ticket holders ‘mental anguish and emotional trauma’ and ‘loss of enjoyment of life,’ among other damages.”

This, however, is not the way New Orleanians typically deal with tragedy.

No, doubt about it, New Orleans is unique and so are the people. It’s a curious Catholic culture, a Creole culture with African and Caribbean and French elements, home of jazz, and the proud survivor of horrendous natural disasters, as well as a place of paradoxes.

Consider the second line parade, a festive celebration for both funerals and marriage. It’s a uniquely New Orleans way to mark

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both death and new life. And then there’s Mardi Gras, the last big blowout before the austerity of lent, unfettered feasting and celebration right before fasting and abstinence. It’s the New Orleans way to take an ironic jab at what life throws in the way and then laugh at it.

So do you think Saints fans in New Orleans are going to sigh and let bygones be bygones? Nope, not a chance – not with Mardi Gras coming up.

The Ironic Mardi Gras Yellow Penalty Flag Throws

So now we come to Sean Gautreaux and the latest trend in Mardi Gras Penalty Flag throws (you know, the beads, medallions, and so on thrown out to the crowds from the floats) . . .

The Genesis

Just a few days after that January 20 NFC Championship Game, when the yellow flag did not fly, Sean was talking to Mardi Gras float painter Danny Corio. They were discussing the final touches for a parade they were working on. Danny had been listening to discussions of the game on sports talk radio while painting. It sparked an idea that he mentioned to Sean, but didn’t have time to follow up on right then.

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Shortly after that, though, the Captain of the parade (the head or person in charge) was in the warehouse where the Mardi Gras floats are stored (called the “den”). He was talking and complaining about the rising cost of Mardi Gras Penalty Flag throws – that is, the items tossed out from floats to the eager hands of spectators, usually things like plastic beads, cups, doubloons, and stuffed animals. Then the idea hit.

It would be the perfect way to laugh in the face of that football tragedy, to give it an ironic twist and wring out a little humor. And that would be Mardi Gras Penalty Flag throws that was never thrown in the game. So Sean went to work.

He set out to create overnight some simple referee flags that could be used as Penalty Flag throws. They had to be cheap and quick to make, owing to the huge quantity that would be distributed during the Mardi Gras parades. Typically, these Penalty Flag throws cost no more than $2.00 to $2.50, maximum, because float riders are throwing them out to random strangers, and many of them wind up in the landfill. So Sean did some investigating and found referee flags on Amazon for about $2.00 each. The price was right, but the flags were the wrong color and didn’t have enough weight to lend themselves to throwing. (Maybe the referees thought the same thing!)

He decided, then, to hit local fabric stores for the necessary yellow fabric to cut up into appropriately sized squares. Then he could place small rubber balls (another common Mardi Gras throw) inside the squares to provide the needed weight and then tie off the squares with rubber bands and tape. Using this plan, Sean constructed 12 prototypes.

The next day, Sean posted pictures of these 12 prototype flags on social media – and it blew up and went viral. So he headed back to the fabric store for more flag-making materials. But when he got to the store the next morning, there was an empty spot on the shelf where he expected to see the bolt of cloth. Another customer had purchased every bit of it except for a meager two and a half yards.

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And here, in Sean’s words, is what happened next: “The store then searched its other nearby store for fabric and said there were 57 yards there. I raced over only to find someone in line buying many yards of the same color. Others had the same idea, obviously. Fortunately, the customer had found only the more expensive material and bought all 15 yards of it. I found the less expensive 57 yards of material and bought all of that, making about 600 flags. I quickly realized after getting home that 600 flags would fulfill maybe 2 or 3 or the growing requests I had in my email box.”

So he had to find another solution, another source for the fabric to meet the burgeoning interest in Mardi Gras penalty flag throws.

The Man Behind It (Mostly)

But wait: who is Sean Gautreaux? Well, he is the man (mostly) behind this new Mardi Gras phenomenon, but quite a bit more really…

Sean wears many professional hats but is primarily an illustrator. After graduating from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn with a Master’s in computer graphics, he worked in Fairlawn, NJ, as an art director for video games. That’s a long way from New Orleans, but in 2004 he moved back to New Orleans and began working in the Mardi Gras industry painting floats. It was a natural progression from here for him to move into designing Mardi Gras penalty flag throws and krewe favors (gifts).

In 2010, Sean left the Mardi Gras industry for a few years. He wanted to try his hand at designing children’s books and now has a total of 20 to his credit. He is also well known for his YouTube video series titled “What is in Our Skies,” an intriguing investigation into cloud “UFOs.” Currently, he has 7,000+ subscribers on his IndustrialSurrealism channel.

But now Sean is back in the Mardi Gras industry where he works as an independent contractor. Over the last few years, he has worked for a bunch of different krewes on various projects. His work – floats, doubloons, and more – can be seen in the Krewe of Centurions, Knights of Babylon, Krewe of Alla, Krewe D’Etat, and many others. He also does work for krewes that are rather secretive and so is prohibited from publicly detailing his work for them. But Sean was quick to add, “I can honestly say it’s the most fun work I do.”

In 2019, Sean has been working chiefly on the Krewe of Pygmalion float design, as well as doubloon design, King/Queen/Maid costume design, and newspaper bulletins. And right after the infamous football game, he had his own special project. He designed an ironic float to poke fun at what happened at the game and what happens in the NFL. (Take at a look at the image.)

In a recent interview, Sean was asked what he wanted Saints fans to get out of this float design. His ready response was: “A laugh. The NFL is a rigged joke. Just get used to it.” Leave it to Sean and the people of New Orleans to find a way to laugh at disaster and then turn it into a celebration.

When Yellow Flags Do Fly

So how, exactly, is it going to play out at Mardi Gras?

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The parades are at the center of it – these public displays put on for free during Mardi Gras.

“There are,” Sean explained, “about 60 parades in the metro area each year. Behind each parade is a non-profit organization or club. Inside that organization is a krewe (crew) that sponsors the parade. On the final weekend of Mardi Gras, it is said that there are 1 million people viewing on the parade route, especially when it comes to massive krewes like Endymion (3000+ riders) or on Mardi Gras Day when the floats are rolling all day long. The city’s population essentially doubles with all the tourists coming in.”

The referee flags will be thrown in several of the parades – for example, Krewe of Endymion, Krewe of Alla, Krewe of Muses, Krewe D’Etat, Krewe of Bacchus, Legion of Mars, Krewe of Eve, Krewe of Bonnepart (Lafayette, LA), and more. And how big is this thing really? On the day of this interview, Sean was on his way out deliver 400 flags to a krewe. And that was only a fraction of the total number.

The Yellow Flag Source for Mardi Gras

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After finding local fabric stores an unreliable source for the needed materials, Sean did like all of us and went online. He conducted a Google search for “yellow cotton squares.”

At the top of the search results was Wholesale For Everyone, as well as a likely-looking competitor on the first page. After doing a quick comparison, Sean found that Wholesale For Everyone (WFE) was more professional and had the competitive prices he needed and so the competitor was ruled out.

Here’s the process Sean used to select Wholesale For Everyone as his supplier for the raw materials for Mardi Gras penalty flag throws. “The competition’s site was either antiquated or non-professional or both. WFE had at the top of their page the 1-800 number and seemed welcome to phone calls. The competitor’s site mentioned that ordering calls were not welcome and the number was only for customer service after the order was placed. So, if I ordered from the competitor, would the shipment get lost in the mail or be late? I needed these flags made fast.”

And there’s more: “I called up WFE and spoke to Jeff. Boom, order placed, and I had the flag material in days. They even waved the shipping cost. I placed another order. Boom, I had that order in a few days as well. Yesterday morning, I placed an order for 640 pieces. An hour later, I called back to revise the order and add 60 pieces to it. No problem. The pieces were out the door yesterday, in the mail at a very reasonable standard shipping cost, and will be at my door tomorrow, 2 days later.”

Speed and accuracy were paramount. “Mardi Gras is March 5th, and the riders need to get their flags in time to decorate them with time to spare. WFE delivered. Why would I order from anyone else?”

Laughing Survivors

You know that the people who came back from Hurricane Katrina can survive a football catastrophe. And they can do it with a humorous ironic twist. There may lie ahead of a long Super Bowl Lent (at least a year-long) for the Saints and fans, but it’s going to be kicked off with a big Mardi Gras penalty flag party. “A laugh” – that’s the healthy way to deal with it.