New Orleans' one-of-a-kind celebration of Saints at Super Bowl

Even the NFL, accustomed to hoopla from Super Bowl teams' home towns, must be a little taken aback by the pre-game buildup in New Orleans. As for copyrights to 'Who Dat?', the locals gave NFL the smackdown.

Michael DeMocker/The Times-Picayune/AP
In a Sunday, January 24, 2010 photo, Moose the Who Dat Dog and his owner Del Holt march near the Louisiana Superdome before the NFC Championship game between the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings.
Judi Bottoni/AP
In this photo taken on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2010, a " Who Dat " flag with a fleur-de-lis hangs in the French Quarter in New Orleans. The New Orleans Saints play the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV on Sunday in Miami.

If the NFL thought that New Orleans is like any other football city sending a team to the Super Bowl, they are surely thinking again.

From fan reaction to the NFL’s sudden claim to the phrase “Who Dat?” to the spectacle last Sunday of several hundred men in dresses on parade in front of the Superdome, the Who Dat Nation follows no standard playbook in expressing itself.

Bliss has been nearly universal in The Big Easy since the Saints’ NFC conference win on Jan. 24, with local business owners expecting Sunday's game to unleash one of the biggest parties ever seen in the biggest party city in America. But the euphoria briefly turned to bile last week after the NFL sent letters to a number of shop owners selling Saints-themed T-shirts, claiming the copyright to “Who Dat?”

The ensuing uproar rivaled the jet-engine decibel levels that fans generated inside the Superdome for the Vikings' offense. After prominent Louisiana elected officials threatened to countersue (and perhaps have the league’s tax exempt status revoked), the NFL by last weekend had dropped the issue, calling it all “a significant misunderstanding."

Hey, dude, get out your ball gown

League bigwigs are fortunate that Saints fans and the local media soon had something else to buzz about: a parade of several hundred middle-aged men wearing sequined dresses, miniskirts, and ball gowns, in honor of the late Saints sportscaster Bernard “Buddy” Diliberto.

In a city known for its characters, sportscaster Diliberto was definitely among them. "Buddy D," as he was known, for nearly 40 years covered what was often the worst team in the NFL, and, for many Saints fans, he embodied their disappointments, inadequacies, and undying support. Speaking New Orleans’ Southern version of Brooklynese, Diliberto is remembered for a withering wit often leavened with malapropisms. A few of his oft-quoted linguistic fumbles: “the chip of the iceberg,” a trade for the team that would be “like mañana from heaven,” players out with “a torn lee nigament,” and a quarterback retiring after 17 seasons of “terrorizing NFL secretaries.” Diliberto came to represent a team that often was so bad it was funny. When the Saints went 1-15 in 1980, Buddy D started wearing a paper bag over his head during his post-game commentary and coined a new nickname for the team: the Aint's.

But what about the dresses? No, he was not a cross-dresser, as far as anyone knows. In 1993, when the franchise was yet again slipping from a promising start on a season, Buddy D vowed to walk down Bourbon Street wearing a dress if the Saints went to the Super Bowl. Alas, he did not live to see this day.

Last Sunday, though, Diliberto's successor on radio station WWL, former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert, fulfilled that vow by organizing a parade of Buddy D acolytes. Wearing a blonde wig and a black-and-gold sequined dress, Hebert led a weird and wildly coifed procession from the Superdome to Bourbon Street, as several thousand fans along the route cheered “Buddy D! Buddy D!” and "Who dat say day gonna beat dem Saints?"

Saints' revival mirrors the city's

Many New Orleanians are still pinching themselves to make sure their Saints' Super Bowl bid is not a dream. Just four years ago in the chaos after hurricane Katrina, they nearly lost their team to San Antonio or Los Angeles. With a starting roster of late draft picks and free agents, the perennial underdog Saints have become a rallying point for a city that once again lives life on its streets. This weekend, thousands of tailgaters are expected to take over a four-story parking deck in the Central Business District that was ground zero for the Who Dat Nation for home games this season. Bars, restaurants, and hotel lounges will host thousands of fans watching on widescreen TVs.

Uptown at the historic Prytania Theater, the only single-screen theater left in Louisiana, owner Robert Brunet threw open his doors for a communal viewing of the NFC championship and filled all 295 seats. He was planning an encore for the Super Bowl, but this week Mr. Brunet and other bar owners received letters from the NFL stating that their public screenings of the game violated the league’s copyrights. Stay tuned.


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