jason berry author

Who Dat? When The Saints Call, The Lord Answers


The franchise began, fittingly, on All Saints Day, 1966.

But it took 21 humiliating years before the Saints had a winning season. I was almost 40.

We wondered about that area under the Dome, once a famous cemetery. Though the soil had been deconsecrated, could it be true that sullen spirits caught below had put some bad mojo on the Saints?

Hope dawned in 1983. Aaron Neville, the great balladeer, did a new recording of "When the Saints Go Marching In" with real Saints players in a booming chorus: "Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints? Who dat, who dat?"

Then came the victory spiritual "I Believe," which rolled with the words "Saints, saints, saints go all the wayyyy ..." — rocking to the backbeat of a "who dat?" chorus.

The Saints began winning. Signs arose, saying, "Bless you, boys."

And "who dat?" became a cry to heaven from the holy city where jazz began.

Since Katrina, a meat parade of politicians here has gone to jail, basically for eating our money.

The town was aching. But with coach Sean Payton and visionary quarterback Drew Brees, the Saints kept winning ... and winning.

The Saints gave us a city of hope.

On the morning of Sunday's big game, an auxiliary bishop at St. Louis Cathedral, in a gentle riff off of St. Paul to the Corinthians, said that as believers are joined to the body of Christ, so, and I quote, "Today, we are also reminded that we are all part of the Who Dat Nation. Let us pray that there is great rejoicing" later today.

The bishop's prayer was answered — 31-28! The French Quarter rocked all night.

New Orleans police reported that the crime stats plunged. Not a single murder in the No. 1 city for homicides on the day the Saints won.

As the eyes of a divided nation turn toward Miami, the Saints are America's redemption team.

The next day, Ronnie Lamarque, one of the biggest car dealers, said on WWL radio that the velocity of Garrett Hartley's winning field goal was a sign of providence. Host Bob DelGiorno agreed: God was behind the Saints.

At Walgreen's, the checkout lady told me: "It was God's will, baby. Saints are runnin'. "

Hack Bartholomew, a trumpeter in Jackson Square, said on TV that his church prayed for victory, and that's why the Saints won.

Now, as the eyes of a divided nation turn toward Miami, the Saints are America's redemption team.

And in the Crescent City, people bruised by floods and bedeviled by cannibals of democracy are united as never before, on a spiritual quest for the promised land, marching to the sacred beat.

Who dat sey dey gonna beat dem Saints ... Who dat? Who dat?

Jason Berry produces documentaries and writes on culture and politics for many publications. He is also the author of Last of the Red Hot Poppas, a comic novel about Louisiana politics. He lives in New Orleans.