Heading north last night, I saw a white tent off Highway 190, the sort of impromptu shelter erected to sell Louisiana produce in season or, more often, fireworks. As I passed, I saw it was neither: a sign at the edge of the highway just read "Saints."
A couple more miles, and there was a large truck with textiles in the back and another sign: "Saints."
And then, there it was: "Saints SuperStore," with a fleur de lis and a font that didn't bear any relation to the NFL. It was a temporary banner hung over the entrance to a now-defunct car dealership. Inside was all fluorescent lights and tables of merch. I pulled over.
Outside, the building was ringed with yellow Saints caution tape (a licensed NFL product? I hadn't seen it before). Inside was the usual Saints-abilia one might see at a licensed Black and Gold store, along with some sketchier merchandise reminiscent of a roadside swap meet in Florida or Mississippi. Up front were some mighty authentic-looking jerseys ($60), along with the official NFC championship T-shirts with the little hologram tag meant to assure buyers that they were getting authentic NFL merchandise. (But if someone could counterfeit a shirt, why couldn't they counterfeit a tag as well?) In the back of the old dealership, the salesmen's little offices had been converted into makeshift dressing rooms.
The proprietors of the Saints SuperStore were nice, but they didn't want photos. Too bad, because I really wanted to snap photos of all the tables with WHO DAT? DREW DAT! hoodies, black skimpy ladies' tops with fleur de lis in gold bling, and all sorts of shirts, jackets, and outerwear with the word SAINTS on them. Among the items of more dubious provenance: a $40 Saints toilet seat and a repro silkscreened shirt of The Times-Picayune "Super Saints!" cover that looked rather...smudgy. (Ashton Phelps, you may want your lawyers to look into this.) And, more than anything else, WHO DAT everywhere. On everything.
"Get it while you can," the woman behind the counter warned me. "If you see a design you like, it may not be here in a couple of days."
What was their best seller?
"T-shirts. Jerseys. Beads. Wind socks. Hoodies," she said blithely, going on to name just about every item in the store. (The fleur de lis beads were $10 a string: French Quarter prices.)
I left without buying anything, but I seemed to be the only one; plenty of shoppers were picking up Saints souvenirs. Was any of it legal? Who knows. I'm no expert in copyright law, and the NFL made that clear this week when they told us all we didn't have any claim to a phrase that predated professional football.
But I wondered if the league's bigfoot-bully approach to small-time New Orleans merchants made shoppers feel a little bit more justified in buying Saints merchandise that clearly wasn't being merchandised by the Saints. If so, it was working out marvelously for the "Saints SuperStore," operating out of a defunct car dealership on a highway out of the city.