What Dat? It’s the story of “Who Dat”
New Orleans Saints flags fluttering from its roof, the black SUV
rolled past a bus stop on Tchoupitoulas Street early in the
“Who Dat!” came the cheer from the SUV’s open windows.
“I Dat!” cried the fans at the stop.
Then, everybody together: “We Dat!”
Smiles and fist bumps all around.
With the Saints in the Super Bowl for the first time, the team’s
“Who Dat” cheer has become something a little bit more: a
greeting, a chant, a taunt and a ritual in a city where love of the
home team has rarely correlated to victories in 43 years of
The origins of “Who Dat” aren’t clear, though the phrase
apparently goes back to late 19th-century minstrel shows.
The story of “Who Dat” and the Saints goes back to one of the
club’s rare hopeful moments in its first two decades. In 1983, New
Orleans hired coach Bum Phillips, a guy who wore a white cowboy hat
and promised big wins. The Saints opened 4-2, and for the
ever-optimistic fans, the future looked bright.
That’s when Ron Swoboda – who had heard a New Orleans high
school use it – decided the “Who Dat” chant perfectly captured
the hopeful mood. The chant, “Who dat, who dat, who dat say gonna
beat dem Saints,” is frequently shortened to just “Who Dat.”
“Things were looking so good for the Saints, people were
thinking playoffs and rightfully so,” remembered Swoboda, who
gained fame with a clutch World Series catch for the 1969 New York
Mets, and was a local sportscaster in 1983. “That ‘Who Dat’ chant
seemed to connect the fans to the team and how they felt
Swoboda got five Saints players- Dave Waymer, Brad Edelman, John
Hill, Reggie Lewis and Louis Oubre – to chant the “Who Dats”, and
Aaron Neville to sing “When the Saints Go Marching In” on a
record that became an instant best-seller in New Orleans.
“It was a fun thing to do,” Neville said. “We wanted to do
something the fans would like and something that would show the
team the kind of support they had.”
After Neville’s first recording, at least 11 more versions have
been recorded, including a recent one by Neville himself. Among the
others are such classics as: “Are You A Who Dat?”; “Who Dat is
Coming Out”; and, “A Who Dat Christmas” by the Who Dat
“’Who Dat’ belongs to this city,” said 69-year-old Rick Sins,
a season ticket holder since the first year. “That’s the way a lot
of us talk, anyway. But it’s ours. You saw how fast the NFL backed
down on that issue.”
The slogan has been reproduced on T-shirts, head bands, signs,
the back windows of cars and sides of buildings throughout the
The NFL, which was not bothered by the merchandise for years,
moved to stop T-shirt shops from selling shirts with the slogan on
them immediately after the Saints beat the Minnesota Vikings in the
NFC championship, earning the right to play the Indianapolis Colts
in the Super Bowl on Sunday.
Saints fans were incensed, and argued the NFL couldn’t claim
ownership of a saying or symbol that predates the Saints.
The outcry was so loud that Gov. Bobby Jindal asked the state
attorney general to look into a possible lawsuit if the NFL was
attempting to declare ownership rights of the phrase.
Attorney General Buddy Caldwell had a conference call with the
NFL’s general counsel to discuss the cease-and-desist letters
claiming the “Who Dat” shirts were a trademark infringement.
“They’ve conceded and they’ve said they have no intention of
claiming the fleur-de-lis, which would be ridiculous, or the ‘Who
Dat,’ which would be equally ridiculous,” Caldwell said. The
fleur-de-lis is a traditional symbol of New Orleans that’s featured
on Saints helmets.
“That is pure New Orleans, honey,” said the 49-year-old Ruby
Celestine, one of the fans at the bus stop. “Everybody in the
world knows Who Dat. Because We Dat!”