Here's Da Deal on 'Who Dat' Controversy
You surely will.
"Who dat, who dat, who dat say gone beat dem Saints?"
This slightly addictive "Who Dat" craze is on the verge of spreading from its New Orleans base to south Florida during the next few days, and that's fine. If those involved with the Saints Nation wish to continue to live under the delusion that they brought the essence of that chant to the NFL, so be it.
It's their Super Bowl party (well, in conjunction with the Indianapolis Colts), and they can claim what they want to -- even though it's wrong.
Just take it from somebody who was around the NFL forever. He won world championships as a player under Vince Lombardi during the birth of the Frozen Tundra in Green Bay. That's where locals were clever enough to invent the Lambeau Leap. Years before returning to run the Packers, he coached a Cleveland Browns franchise that had such fervent fans that they later came to games dressed as their favorite type of canine along the way to forming the "Dawg Pound."
Not the Who Dat Saints, but the Who Dey Bengals.
"Who dey, who dey, who dey think gone beat dem Bengals?"
Anyway, the Denver Broncos were visiting the Bengals back then, and with the home team sprinting toward a 9-3 record courtesy of a blowout, old Riverfront Stadium began rocking from "Who deys" everywhere.
Said Gregg, easing into a laugh, "When they first started hollering that, I didn't know what they were saying. The only thing I know is that, instead of the plain yelling for the team, there was some kind of rhythm to it. Then somebody told me about the next week after that game what was going on. We didn't encourage that or anything. It was just the fans themselves starting to doing that, and it excited our players, because they hadn't been exposed to anything like that."
Nobody had. Nobody in the NFL. Not even the Saints, who didn't put a tune to their "Who Dats" until the 1983 season. Still, with the Saints heading to their first Super Bowl after decades of ineptness since their inception in 1967, the battle is on to claim either the rights or the credit for their unofficial fight song.
I mean, this was the Bengals' unofficial fight song, and they rode it -- along with Ken Anderson, Isaac Curtis and Pete Johnson -- all the way to their first Super Bowl after the 1981 season. We're talking about TWO YEARS before the Saints Nation even thought about changing anything with "th" to "d" for any song or chant at the Superdome that didn't involve "When De Saints Go Marching In."
"Hey, look. All Cincinnati's got to claim is chili, so if they want the chant, as far as I'm concerned, they can have it," said Jim Henderson, chuckling, as one of the Saints' unofficial historians. He has worked in New Orleans since 1978, but more famously, he has spent 25 years as the Saints' play-by-play announcer on radio. He has experienced the Aints more than the Saints during that stretch.
Not only that, Henderson has seen more than a few songs, slogans or gimmicks associated with the franchise come and go.
There was the late 1970s, when the Saints already had earned their curse reputation, and they hired Dick Nolan to change it. "He had popularized the 'flex' defense when he was in San Francisco," Henderson said. "So at one point, there was a slogan that went 'Beat the hex with the flex,' but they were terrible, so that kind of went away."
Then Bum Phillips threatened to make the Saints as potent as his Houston Oilers of Earl Campbell fame. Said Henderson, "Bum and I were fairly close, and I used to do his television show, so when they kind of made a run, I tried to get a slogan going called, 'It can happen here,' and when it didn't, that died too."
Then there was that "Cha-Ching" fad, which came from a commercial for a local hamburger chain. The Saints used that as a rallying cry in the early 1990s whenever the home team scored a touchdown. It's just that when the touchdowns became nearly as scarce as victories for the Saints, "Cha-Ching" went "Bye-bye."
There also was "I Believe."
The problem for the Saints was that their opponents believed more.
Remember, too, that this is New Orleans, the land of Preservation Hall and all of that jazz, which means given such a creative environment, most of the songs in particular that were written about a lousy but loved franchise were splendid. But none of them grabbed the Saints Nation like the "Who Dat" chant that begins as a low shout around a few sections of the Superdome before easing into a roar.
"I would have to say that chant probably has had the greatest shelf life of anything that ever has been associated with the team," Henderson said. "It energizes the fans, because it makes them feel as one, because when the Saints are playing like they are now, everybody's a 'Who Dat,' " Henderson said. "It's just kind of a communal greeting that everybody gives one another in town, and I guess some people truly call themselves 'Who Dats,' and others just kind of embrace the philosophy of it."
Sounds like Cincinnati with "Who Dey."
Unlike the Saints, though, the Bengals weren't a historically woeful expansion team in search of gimmicks. They reached the playoffs in 1970 during their third year in existence. Three of their next six seasons, they won 10 games or more.
It was only then that the Bengals became a poor man's version of the Saints after managing just 14 victories overall in three consecutive seasons through 1980. That triggered an unfathomable change before the next season. Under the orders of the notoriously conservative Paul Brown, the Bengals' founder, owner, general manager and first head coach, they switched from their plain uniforms with orange helmets that featured "Bengals" in black on the side to the same colors but only with a series of wild black stripes on the helmets and the uniforms.
The Bengals began to win again. And then they won some more. And then that other thing happened, which was that "Who Dey" thing. (By the way, when you read what comes next, think about giddy New Orleans right now and its surging Saints, along with the upcoming Super Bowl and "Who Dat").
"It was all kind of silly at first, but all of a sudden, the whole year kept getting bigger than life for us," said Cris Collinsworth, the NBC football announcer, who lives in Cincinnati, recalling that 1981 season when he was a wide receiver for the Bengals. "It had been a while since they had won around here. It was my rookie season, so I was just trying to figure out what I was doing, and everything was new. The helmets with the stripes. The buzz in town. Then you had the 'Who Dey' thing, and it was an amazing time to be here.
"It was exciting for all of us, because the cheer itself was one thing. But it became like a two-word way of saying 'Hello' around town. People stopped saying, 'Hello. How are you?,' especially to the players, and it was always, 'Who Dey?' no matter where you went. If they weren't saying it to you, they were saying it to each other, and it was a common bond that permeated the entire city and the entire area, and it just lived on.
"You just said, 'Who Dey,' and they were two words that encompassed everything for a team heading into the Super Bowl."
Yep. Sounds like New Orleans with "Who Dat."
As far as NFL officials are concerned, it's all about "Who Dat" now. That's where the money is for NFL Properties, which splits its revenue with teams after the sale of what the league brands as official merchandise. So, not surprisingly, the NFL sent nasty letters to T-shirt makers and others to warn them to stop selling stuff with "Who Dat" references, because the NFL claims it owns the "Who Dat" trademark.
The NFL has to get in the back of growing line.
Two brothers named Sal and Steve Monistere tell anybody who will listen that they own the "Who Dat" rights. In fact, New Orleans' WWL-TV Eyewitness News found documents this week at the Louisiana Secretary of State's Office that show Steve Monistere and Carlo Nuccio as registering "Who Dat" in their names in 1983.
During that Saints season, when the chant became a staple around the bayou after it was swiped from the Bengals (at least from an NFL sense, which I'll explain in a moment), Steve Monistere even produced a song called -- what else? -- "Who Dat Say They Gonna Beat Dem Saints?" Somehow, Monistere and Nuccio allowed their "Who Dat" trademark to expire in 1988, and Saints owner Tom Benson rushed into the Louisiana Secretary State's Office to stake a claim on the words.
Whatever that was worth.
If you wish to get technical, "Who Dat" belongs to those who used it during minstrel shows and vaudeville acts around the turn of the 20th century. And, in regard to the chant's debut in sports, some give credit to St. Augustine, a historically African-American all-boys Catholic school in New Orleans, who supposedly used the chant during the late 1960s. Former Saints running back Dalton Hilliard told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that the chant began during the late 1970s when he played for Patterson High School in Patterson, La. After Patterson, Hilliard told the paper that he heard the chant at home games while playing for LSU.
Other say the chant started with Southern University fans in Baton Rouge around the time it supposedly did at St. Augustine.
Who knows? Maybe the chant's inventor moved to Cincinnati after his days at Patterson, St. Augustine, LSU or Southern. Then maybe he became a Bengals fan. Then maybe he was so inspired by their play in 1981 that he blurted out his "Who Dey" version of the chant at Riverfront Stadium during that Broncos game.
"In my mind, I always thought that it started in Cincinnati, but I couldn't tell you one way or the other," Collinsworth said. "I do sort of enjoy hearing it now with the Saints. If the Bengals can't go to the Super Bowl, at least the 'Who Dey' or the 'Who Dat' got there. I think we're sort of living vicariously through them. Instead of it becoming a controversy, I think we should become sister cities.
"I don't know what we'd do if we ever met in a Super Bowl. I guess we'd just play for 'Who Dat' and 'Who Dey,' and winner takes all. Whoever won that Super Bowl would actually get to keep the chant."
Now dat's a thought.