The bounty scandal has fanned the flames of an already fiercely loyal New Orleans Saints fan base
Owner Sara Molony recently amended the dress code for her staff at Kyoto, the popular Japanese restaurant and sushi bar Uptown.
Kyoto employees Andrew Greishaber, Dustin Williamson, chef James Kaufman and owner Sara Molony show their Saints pride. Molony allows employees to wear 'Free Sean Payton' shirts in addition to their tradition uniforms.
The "FREE SEAN PAYTON" T-shirts with giant gold letters worn by many of the waiters, busboys and chefs are a departure from the customary plain all-black ensemble. Molony's statement was about more than just fashion.
"The Saints have been made an example of by the NFL," said Molony, a longtime Saints season-ticket holder. "Why does Sean Payton have to be the one to take the brunt of all this? Why aren't other teams besides the Saints being punished? We're being targeted. I think it's unfair."
New Orleans has always been fiercely loyal to its local institutions. Residents picketed when McKenzie's Bakery closed. They ran Krispy Kreme out of the French Quarter when it dared to open a shop within walking distance of Café Du Monde. And most recently, residents staged a "Save The Times-Picayune" rally when owners announced plans to reduce publication to three days a week.
These uprisings pale in comparison to what's taken place this offseason with the Saints, perhaps New Orleans' most universally revered cultural institution.
The NFL bounty scandal has roiled the Who Dat Nation like nothing before, stirring the defiant streaks seemingly embedded in the DNA of its constituents.
Like Mike Brown and Tony Hayward before him, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has born the brunt of the onslaught. Once considered a hero for his deft behind-the-scenes work in guiding the Saints back to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, he's now become Public Enemy No. 1 after levying unprecedented sanctions against the Saints coaches, players and administrators.
In true New Orleans fashion, the city's residents have channeled a variety of creative ways to express their unconditional support of the team and unvarnished rancor toward the league in the wake of the historic scandal.
Some have been crass. Some have been sarcastic. All have been naturally New Orleans.
Ralph Dunne organized an online petition to boycott Super Bowl XLVII, which will be played at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Feb. 3. For each of the 1,763 signatures, an email was sent to Goodell at NFL headquarters.
New Orleans rapper 5 Star and his brother T-Bone, authored a rap anthem dubbed "Free Sean Payton" in the days after the year-long suspension was meted out by the NFL. The song -- Favorite lyric: "Teams been havin' bounties, why you actin' all shocked; Goodell done bad, putting Payton on lock" -- has received regular play on local hip-hop stations.
Meanwhile, a cottage industry of anti-NFL/pro-Saints T-shirts has arisen across town. They're ubiquitous, from the treasured tourist hot spots in the French Quarter to the trendy shops along Magazine Street.
Patrick Brower, the head of operations at Dirty Coast, estimated his shop has sold more than 4,000 shirts since they went on the market, making it the fastest-selling shirt in the store's 7-year history. One of them was worn by Jimmy Buffet during his concert at Woldenberg Park during Final Four week.
Fleurty Girl experienced similar success. Owner Lauren Thom said the store received more than 2,000 orders in the first 24 hours after her design was posted online.
"That's more than we usually do in a month," said Thom, who recently unveiled a "Coachless Not Hopeless" shirt. "We've never seen a shirt sell like that before, not even in the Who Dat frenzy (around Super Bowl XLIV in 2010). It really rocked our infrastructure."
Tina Howell chose to vent her displeasure in another way, albeit in equally creative fashion. The Metairie human resources and marketing manager launched "Operation Juicy Fruit" on Facebook in March, in which she solicited fans to send packs of Payton's favorite gum to Goodell's NFL office in New York.
Almost 3,000 fans did so. Some, Howell said, sent cases. Most included letters of support or demands of explanations from Goodell.
"I'm sure (Goodell) got the message," Howell said. "There's no way you could get truckloads of deliveries and not be aware of what was going on. ... I said my peace. That's all I can do. Most people they just take it. ... That's not how Saints fans think."
At the NFL owners meeting earlier this spring, Goodell said he understood the emotional response from Saints fans and knows some of his decisions, especially those involving discipline, will not always be popular.
"We have always appreciated the fans' loyalty, passion and support of their Saints," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. "We continue to be focused on the health and safety of all NFL players and the integrity of the game."
The league's corporate responses have rung hollow in a town where national chains and fast-food restaurants are considered invasive species.
At the team's final minicamp earlier this month, one fan displayed a "Geaux to Hell Goodell" sign in the sun-drenched crowd. Others shouted similar words of resolve.
"Never doubt the intestinal fortitude of the Saints fan," said Pete Danker, 66, from the packed stands while wearing a black "Who Dat Nation vs. the World" T-shirt he purchased in the French Quarter. "We see inequity and we are not willing to let this die, nor are we willing to stand idle and accept what discolors the black and gold."
Even the Fourth Estate is not immune. Several national reporters who've covered the bounty story for the past four months say they've been inundated with hate mail and tweets from irate Saints fans. One said the invective even crossed the line to threats of physical harm in emails and online chat sessions.
"This is an all-time high on the vitriol meter," said the writer, who demanded anonymity because he didn't want to endure any further wrath. "Never seen anything like it."
Players united as well
None of this, of course, comes as a surprise to the Saints players, who've grown accustomed to the unconditional love of their ardent fan base.
"It's something that we've all felt before," right tackle Zach Strief said. "It's a familiar feeling. The circumstances change, but the reaction of the city clinging together doesn't. In New Orleans, we circle the troops and get into our defense mode, and we don't let anybody attack us without us all being there together. It's a really unique relationship that we've always had with this city here."
Strief was one of several Saints players with a "Free Sean Payton" T-shirt in his locker. Safety Roman Harper wore a bracelet with the same message.
"There's a lot of history between this team and this city," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "When we're winning they're with us and when we're losing, they're with us. I don't think this offseason is going to change anything."
In fact, some players said the adversity could galvanize the club, in the same way it did the Patriots in 2007 in the wake of the Spygate scandal. New England went 16-0 the ensuring season and fell one play short of becoming only the second unbeaten team to win the Super Bowl.
"A lot of people aren't happy with Mr. Goodell," Saints punter Thomas Morstead said. "I think we're all going to rally around being the dark team this year. That 'us against the world' mentality will fit very well this year with the team and the city."
'Do not serve this man'
Next door to Kyoto on Prytania Street, customers line up daily to devour chef Bryan Gilmore's latest ice cream concoctions at the Creole Creamery. Gilmore isn't a huge sports fan. But he is an ardent defender of all things New Orleans.
Catherine Threlkeld / The Times-Picayune
Creole Creamery owner David Bergeron has a picture of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell telling employees not to serve the commissioner. Bergeron said an hour doesn't go by that a customer or two doesn't snap a photo of the mug shot.
So when he heard about the draconian suspensions from the NFL office, he knew the ice cream shop needed to somehow make a statement of its own. A tour of the Internet produced the answer.
Now, prominently displayed below a Dr. Bob "Be Nice or Leave" sign and just behind the devilishly delectable tubs of Turtlemisu and Monkey Hill Dew, is a framed portrait of Goodell with the edict: "Do Not Serve This Man."
Owner David Bergeron said an hour doesn't go by that a customer or two doesn't snap a photo of the mug shot. It's been so popular he's made a copy to display at his Lakeview parlor.
"I think he's kind of sticking it to us," said Bergeron, a season-ticket holder since 2006. "I understand why he has to take a hard line. However, what he's doing is sabotaging the team and ruining our entire season."
Bergeron insists he won't serve Goodell should the commissioner elect to visit the parlor when he comes to town this season. He even has a plan for the occasion.
"If he's upset about not being served he can appeal," Bergeron said. "I'll take a few days and then turn him down again. Tough (luck), I make the rules here."
Thx for posting this Smashmouth. The author understands the Who Dat Nation. And like the old adage says, we really are a different breed of cat. No team in the NFL has a fan base as devoted as ours,some come close but is a different feel than The Steeler Nation or other loyal fan bases.
I enjoyed reading that... thanks WHO DAT!
Loved it! Love New Orleans!:bng:
Whoa!!!!!! Everybody hold on. Jeff Duncan wrote this. It's a great read but he's trying to snake his way back into the who dat nation's good graces. Don't e fooled.
Very Cool !
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