These days, we have the Who Dat Nation, Drew Brees and Sean Payton, but the team didn’t enjoy a winning record until 1987 and won its first playoff game in 2000.
In the case of Dumpstaphunk’s Ivan Neville, that history only made him more diehard.
“Probably 80 percent of my T-shirts have something to do with black and gold,” he said. “I’ve got some tennis shoes on right now, Converse All-Stars with ‘Who Dat!’ written on the side. I’ve got a belt with fleur de lis on it.”
In 1967, Neville sold cold drinks at Tulane Stadium during Saints games, including the first in franchise history. “You could sit down and watch the game if you wanted to as long as you turned in what you had to turn in,” he recalled.
Nowadays, as a touring musician, Neville is not always able to watch a game, but he does what he can. When Dumpstaphunk was on the annual shipboard music festival Jam Cruise one year, he made organizers put the Saints game on the big screen during a set.
And he goes to Saints-friendly bars around the country where possible. In New York City, he found Bar None, a club that’s half Vikings fans, half Saints fans.
“I remember watching the first game back in the Dome when Steve Gleason blocked that punt in New York at Bar None with a bunch of Saints fans.”
Sometimes, the game and the gig coincide, but Neville has that covered too. “I have somebody on the side signaling me the score of the game,” Neville said. “Me and Ian (guitarist Ian Neville) are signaling each other if he gets an alert on his phone. He’ll put up his hands to say ‘Touchdown!’ ”
Clearly, musicians are not immune to the complicated history between New Orleanians and the Saints.
Friday night when the New Orleans Saints play the Tennessee Titans in a preseason game, BeauSoleil guitarist David Doucet will watch the game at his Uptown home “with one eye open if at all,” he said. “I prefer the real games.”
He was 10 when New Orleans got an NFL franchise in 1967, and his relationship with the team “is the most intense and painful one I have.”
Drummer Doug Belote has toured and recorded with Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Jerry Douglas, Dr. John, Sonny Landreth and Derek Trucks to name a few, but he hasn’t let music get in the way of following the Saints.
“I’ve downloaded NFL Live on my mobile phone and watched Saints games during gigs,” he said.
He was scheduled to go into the studio the night of Sept. 25, 2006, but he told his client that he had a meeting. “My meeting was at the Superdome watching the Falcons against the Saints,” he recalled.
Sax player Jason Mingledorff checks the Saints schedule at the beginning of the season to try to avoid conflicts for meaningful games, but when he was touring as a member of Papa Grows Funk, he and John “Papa” Gros, would find sports bars as well.
“I remember seeing a playoff game in 2010 with Papa Grows Funk and Honey Island Swamp Band in Austin, and both of us going to a game in Baltimore a couple of years later,” he said. “I thought we weren’t going to make it out of there alive. Lots of trash talk. But then we lost, so we were unharmed.”
Since Sunday would often be the day for a long drive home after a weekend’s gigs, Papa Grows Funk made sure that their van had satellite radio so they could at least hear the game on the drive.
When Dumpstaphunk faced an all-day drive from Seattle to Salt Lake City on the day the Saints played the Vikings in the NFC Championship game in 2010, Ivan and Ian Neville bought plane tickets instead so that they could be near a TV and watch the game.
Game meant the world
Neville braved the cold and snow of Soldier Field in January to see the Saints play the Chicago Bears in the 2006 playoffs, and he fondly remembers how former subdude Johnny Ray Allen, who died last week, bought tickets and rented a bus to take 12 New Orleans musicians — including Neville, Johnny Vidacovich and David Torkanowsky — to Miami to see the Saints beat the Colts in the Super Bowl in 2010.
“Johnny was a sweet guy, and it meant the world for him to do that for us,” Neville said. “I remember looking at him at one point, and I saw a little look on his face of satisfaction, that he’d done something spectacular for his friends, helping them fulfill a lifelong dream of seeing the Saints in the Super Bowl.”
Not everybody’s so passionate. King James and the Special Men play classic New Orleans R&B, and bandleader Jimmy Horn’s affection for the Saints is an extension of his love of the city.
“I’m a New Orleans fan, but I couldn’t care less about the NFL,” he said. “After Katrina, I rallied behind our boys in black and gold. I freaked out all the way to the Super Bowl. We even bought paraphernalia, but I chose music a long time ago. We were the music freaks, not the jocks.”
“If the game is on and the mood is high, I can get wrapped up, but it’s the people and the hometown spirit, not professional football.”
Honoring a friend
Singer Margie Perez’s interest in the Saints is also more of a social thing and an expression of her love for the city. On Sundays, she can usually be found Uptown at the Maple Leaf.
“Hanging at the bar with the Maple Ladies, screaming obscenities and whistling at the cute players on screen, is the next best thing to being in the Dome,” she said.
The wave of Saints-related songs sadly ebbed after the 2009 season, but last year Perez recorded “New Orleans Saints” as a fundraiser for Team Gleason. This year, sales benefit the Kara Morgan Shade Fund in honor of community activist Kara Morgan, who died in July after a battle with skin cancer. Listen to “New Orleans Saints” here.
“She was a friend and a big Saints fan,” Perez said. “So much that I sang the song at her funeral.”
The Saints similarly found their way into meaningful events in the life of funk and blues guitarist “West Bank Mike” Doussan. He was at a Saints bar in San Francisco during the Saints’ 2009-2010 playoff run to see them beat the Arizona Cardinals 45-14.
“It was during halftime in this bar, on top of the bar, with Saints fans from all over, that I decided it was the perfect moment to propose to Maggie,” he said, referring to his then-girlfriend. She said yes, and when their youngest child was born during Saints season, Doussan was there in the delivery room with a Saints jersey on. The first photos of the baby are in black and gold.
When he’s not on the road, Jason Mingledorff watches the games at home with his family. “A few years ago my wife finally got into football, so now it’s fun watching it with her and the boys,” he said.
Old anxieties resurface
Jonathan Pretus, of rock band The Breton Sound, will watch the game at his in-laws’ house, just as he does for most games. It has become a ritual, along with throwing the football with nephews during commercial breaks. He has tried watching games in bars with the rest of the band, but after they watched a loss in the Half Moon in the Lower Garden District, they decided the bar was jinxed and couldn’t go back.
He has a series of possible game day T-shirts, and he sticks with one until the Saints lose. Then it’s time to try out another. His Saints rituals have a 21st century element too as, like many others, he watches the game while hanging out on Twitter.
“I really enjoy live-tweeting profanity-filled commentary because I can’t usually say those things in front of my in-laws and the kids,” he said.
The team’s success in the Sean Payton era can lull many new fans into complacency, but long-time fans see every turnover, missed tackle, and ill-timed mistake as part of a legacy that stretches back into years of futility. It takes little to tap into those old anxieties.
“Reggie Bush’s fumble on the last play with Tampa for a Tampa win,” David Doucet said, remembering a loss in 2007. “I walked right out the door. Don’t remember how far I walked. Do I realize this is a different organization? Yes, but they’ll still break your heart. Equal parts dread and fear. I’m a Saints fan.”?
For more from New Orleans musicians on their love affair with the Saints, visit MySpiltMilk.com.