The term “Who Dat” is a borrowed phrase with a proud history that can be traced from the Seventh Ward in the 1980’s to the Caesars Superdome today.
“The first time I heard the ‘Who Dat’ chant was on the St. Augustine Purple Knights’ bus in 1983,” said Ken Berthelot, a longtime New Orleans sportscaster.
That was in 1983, when Berthelot was reporting on St. Aug’s run to defend its three state champion titles won in the 1970’s.
“One of the captains started, by himself, ‘Who dat say they gonna beat St. Aug? Who Dat?’ and I turned around to my cameraman, who was Avis Landry at the time, and he said, ‘I’m already rolling.'”
Pretty soon, the whole team was chanting “Who Dat?” and Berthelot and Landry knew they had captured something magical.
Berthelot featured the St. Aug ‘Who Dat’ chant as part of a sports special and when the chant came on, the switchboard lit up with callers eager to hear it again.
“‘We love that cheer! Can we see it again on the late news?'” recounted Berthelot.
The local news station replayed the story for the next four days straight, in response to continued demand.
“We played it Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and the following Sunday in the ‘dome, the Saints fans (had) adopted it. It became, ‘Who Dat say they gonna beat them Saints?’ and a phenomenon was born,” said Berthelot.
Berthelot’s recordings of those original broadcasts were lost in Hurricane Katrina, but former St. Aug quarterback Darren Dixon said he remembers the championship seasons as if they happened yesterday.
“We came out of the stadium out to the field and the stadium was full of people and all you could hear was ‘Who Dat’ ‘Who Dat’ ‘Who Dat gonna beat them Purple Knights’ or, ‘Who Dat gonna beat St. Aug,’ and it was amazing,” said Dixon. “The real thing was my mom came home after the game and she say ‘Who Dat Baby. Who Dat.’ I said, ‘Who Dat, Mom.'”
When ‘Who Dat?” migrated from St. Aug to the Superdome, the Saints were quick to embrace the chant.
Aaron Neville recorded a ‘Who Dat?’ song on a French Quarter balcony with five 1983 Saints players: John Hill, Louis Oubre, Reggie Lewis, Dave Waymer and Brad Edelman.
“For a team that had never had a winning record and New Orleans to be as fervent about the team as they were in those days – it was a wonderful thing as a player and it was just great to be part of a city that embraced it like that,” Edelman remembers.
While St. Aug and Berthelot’s broadcast get credit for ‘Who Dat?’ being forever imbedded in Saints culture, the origin of the chant remains unknown. Many sports team claim to have used the cheer at their schools starting in the 1930’s and 1940’s, Berthelot said. Others have traced it back to the Amos and Andy Show in the 1920’s.
Father Tony Ricard, St. Aug campus minister and Saints Chaplin said ‘Who Dat?’ remains a source of pride for the school and Seventh Ward neighborhood.
“It tells us that something can come out of the Seventh Ward, something can come out of the Black community, something can come out of a very strong, proud school system that could go nation wide.”