New Orleans Saints fandom comes in so many different shapes and forms. The Who Dat Nation is possibly the most diverse and varied group of fans in the NFL. It makes it difficult to answer the question – what is a “Who Dat?” It means so much to so many different people. But the one common denominator is the passion that runs deep, and it’s much more complex than simply saying we are fans of a football team that plays in our city.
The phrase “Who Dat” is an idiom that dates back to the turn of the 20th century. It’s found in poetry and songs of the time, and is most often referenced with jazz and minstrel shows of the 1920’s and 1930’s. It’s use with football seems to have come about in the late 1960’s or early ‘70’s, but we know by the late 1970’s or early 1980’s it became associated with the New Orleans Saints and particularly with the phrase “Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?” The chant has become synonymous with the Saints in New Orleans but has been heard nationwide when Saints fans get together on the road too.
The Who Dat Nation’s birth has been attributed to former New Orleans Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert, a native of Cut Off, Louisiana. According to lore, while doing a radio show on local Saints flagship station WWL in 2006, Hebert commented on the diverse people calling in saying “Man, there’s a whole Who Dat Nation out there.”
And Bobby was right, the Who Dat Nation is out here; and we are unique. Football in the south is already different from everywhere else in the country. This is why so many talented athletes flock to the SEC to play college football. It’s not just the good weather, it’s the football passion the south possesses.
Why are Who Dats unique? Maybe it’s because we talk slower and enjoy every moment a little more. Maybe it’s because we grew up on Fridays and Saturdays talking about football and Sunday afternoon was just a natural progression. Maybe we’re still hung up on that dang war of Northern aggression… I believe it’s because we were for many years starved – starved for wins and respect. But we respected each other. New Orleans has through its history been that way. While even the rest of the South was tremendously focused on separation, New Orleans was more genteel than most of the South, borrowing from its French heritage.
I believe it’s because we’ve been tried by fire. We got close to being good in the Jim Mora 80’s and 90’s. Mora never was worse than 7-9 in his time here, but that didn’t bring us long term success. Then Katrina came and almost tolled the death knell for the entire franchise. The resurgence of the city – no, the community that is New Orleans and the Saints is the true birth of the Who Dat Nation. Now, though football is still a priority, New Orleans knows that the PEOPLE are the priority.
Still, Saints fans are different. There are those who just wear the black and gold and are fans. They might know if the Saints won this week; they might know the score too. There are those who watch every game and know the players all by name and birthdate. Some fans believe the Saints will win every next game. Some are more pragmatic and analytical with tempering fanaticism and logic. Saints fans come from every socio-economic group in the spectrum; they cross all races, religions, creeds and orientations. Maybe the only thing that unifies all these people is an equal distaste for a certain bird…
Travel to other cities; talk to other fans. They like their teams a lot. They really do. Those same fans have the passion as well. Sure some of those people are diehards too. They buy jerseys and go to games. But it ends there. No team is part of their community like the Saints are. No team in the NFL has the type of fan base that will support a team so strongly in good times and bad through so much adversity. Again, maybe it’s Katrina. The team can lose a few games – so what? Can’t compare to the losses we’ve all endured. That’s the Who Dat Nation. We were passionate before that, when the team gave us little to be passionate about. Now, we’re galvanized as fans; as strongly as though we were a part of the old girl we know as the Louisiana Superdome (with respect to Mercedes-Benz; thank you for the sponsorship and we appreciate it, but she’s just “The Dome” to us).
One thing is for sure. Come Sundays in the fall, regardless where we’ve been all Spring and Summer. The Saints are our team, regardless what we think about a LOT of things going on in the world and in our own country, regardless the differences between us – on Sundays we all unite. We will scream. Saints fans will cheer. Who Dat Nation will bang on the aluminum walls of the dome. It doesn’t matter exactly how you celebrate our team, whether you are the all-the-time fanatic or the pragmatic analytic…. We will share in the unique passion that makes us the Who Dat Nation.