Who Dat? Who Dat created Who Dat?

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The New Orleans Saints open the season agaisnt the Falcons Sunday, which begs the eternal question: Who Dat? Remember back in 2010 when the NFL declared “Who Dat” part of its property? This was my column at the time.

WHO DAT? Who Dat say they originated the Who Dat cheer? Who Dat? Who Dat?

The one thing we do know, for certain: It wasn’t the New Orleans Saints.

Nevertheless, several New Orleans businesses that sell Who Dat? T-shirts have been served cease-and-desist orders from the National Football League.

With the Saints preparing to play in their first Super Bowl on Feb. 7 in Miami, against the Indianapolis Colts, Saints’ fever is rampant in the Crescent City.

Any merchandise bearing the Saints’ brand, or a Who Dat? motif, is a hot seller.

But the NFL believes it has the rights to the term: Who Dat?, even though the term has been around since long, long before Saints fans started cheering “Who Dat?” in the early 1980s.

Don’t believe me. Ask The Godfather. He would be the venerable Marino Casem, the College Hall of Farmer who for many years coached football and was athletic director at Alcorn State University in Lorman before retiring in Baton Rouge, where he now enjoys the New Orleans Who Dats.

He doesn’t begrudge the Saints, but he knows that long before recording star Aaron Neville helped popularize “Who Dat?” as a Saints cheer in 1981, Alcorn fans were chanting it about the purple and gold Braves.

“Who Dat? Who Dat? Who Dat say dey gonna beat dem Braves, Who Dat, Who Dat?”

Anybody who was in Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville that historical night in March of 1979 can attest. Alcorn State (28-0) defeated Mississippi State University 80-78 on Larry Smith’s basket at the buzzer. And the chant rained down from the nosebleed sections at The Hump.

“Who Dat? Who Dat? Who Dat think dey gonna beat dem Braves, Who Dat, Who Dat?”

It goes back before that even. One of my last assignments at The Hattiesburg American was to cover an Alcorn-Jackson State basketball game in Mississippi Coliseum. Both the famous Short brothers, Eugene and Purvis, played for Jackson State. But Davey Whitney, the Alcorn State Hall of Fame coach, put on a full-court press that night and JSU trailed 48-13 before it knew what had happened. The Tigers came back and made it close, but they didn’t answer the question.

“Who Dat? Who Dat? Who Dat think they gonna beat dem Braves, Who Dat, Who Dat?”

Jackson State didn’t and it kept the Tigers out of the National Invitation Tournament.

And Casem swears “Who Dat?” goes back long before that.

“The first time I ever remembered hearing it was in 1968 when we were playing Florida A&M in the Orange Blossom Classic down in Miami,” Casem says. “We were practicing the day before the game on a baseball field and a bunch of Florida A&M fans started jeering us. They had never seen anybody practice that hard the day before the game and they started making fun of us. They were yelling, ‘Who Dat?’, making fun of the little team from Mississippi.”

Alcorn State clobbered Florida A&M 38-9 the next day on the way to a black college national championship and Braves’ players celebrated by yelling, of course, “Who Dat? Who Dat say they gonna beat dem Braves, Who Dat, Who Dat?”

“Now I hear people all the time claim they started the cheer, but that’s the first time I ever heard it,” Casem said.

I am not about to argue with somebody known as The Godfather. You?

Many people do.

LSU basketball fans believe they began the chant for Dale Brown’s basketball teams in the early 1980s. Across town, Southern University fans know they were yelling “Who Dat?” in the early 1970s, long before that.

Urban Dictionary defines who dat, thusly: From “Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?” an exclamation or cheer that was taken from a song celebrating the hiring of head coach Bum Phillips in 1981.

Clearly, the term predates that.

Former Saints and LSU star Dalton Hilliard says the cheer goes back to Patterson (La.) High School teams that he grew up watching and later played for.

But there is much evidence “Who Dat?” predates football, period.

Late 19th century jazz musicians used the term. Band leaders would call out “Who Dat?” The band would answer, “Who Dat?” And the audience would chime in.

Former Jackson State football coach W.C. Gorden, another Hall of Famer and a jazz afficionado, remembers hearing the term regularly on the radio growing up in Nashville.

James Bell, a JSU criminal justice professor and jazz connoisseur, grew up in Indianola, where he remembers the traveling minstrel shows that came through the Delta.

“The term ‘Who Dat’ was definitely part of their vocabulary,” Bell says.

Suffice to say, the New Orleans Saints and the so-called Who Dat Nation have forever popularized the term. That’s not to say they – or the NFL – should own it.

Believe this: the Who Dat Nation fervently hopes the Colts don’t provide the ultimate answer.

 

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