For the black-and-gold monsters of the gridiron, the pre-game ritual is a sacred event. Ankles are wrapped, fingers are taped, and jerseys are carefully tucked in. They also have superstitions such as lucky undershirts from high school or special pre-game meals to ensure they are properly prepared for the game.
Meanwhile, beyond the field, another important group of participants undergoes special pre-game preparations for pro football on Sundays in New Orleans. Members of this group also carefully prepare their black-and-gold outfits -- some even adorn themselves in full costume. Essential nourishments, such as Bloody Marys, a hung-over breakfast in the French Quarter or an array of barbequed meats and cold beer, are likewise de rigueur.
As they meticulously follow their rituals, their TVs and radios blast pre-game analysis to the farthest reaches of their house or parking lot. They scan the stations looking for a sign of hope in advance of the day's game, something that might inspire superstitious acts or fortuitous signs -- such as lucky seating arrangements or good parking spots.
It's all part of a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation on Sundays every fall, and it's all part of being an official New Orleans Saints die-hard.
The dedicated, zealous community of super Saints fans follows the team with a uniquely New Orleans flair. This unusual cast of characters dresses up for every game, and they are, indeed, a special breed. The characters include De Pope, Moses, Abdul D. Tentmakur, Whistle Monster, Voodoo Man, Fleur D-Licious and the North End Zone Touchdown Dancer -- just to name a few.
For some, outlandish acts by these fervent Saints fans evoke memories of other fans who put bags over their heads at the end of a losing season because they couldn't bear to watch -- or to be seen. Yet, in a city that still calls its most popular drink a Hurricane, ours clearly is a fan culture that likes to have fun with itself no matter what the scoreboard says.
Having toiled through almost 40 years of mediocrity -- with only glimmers of success -- these fans still have the audacity to strut down the street and chant, "Who Dat say dey gonna beat 'dem Saints?" To be sure, all Saints fans harbor an eternal sense of optimism. But, for those few who ascend to the ranks of "super fans," following the Saints -- and believing in them -- is about more than just football.
Take Al d'Aquin Jr., aka Abdul D. Tentmakur, for example. The 44-year-old Marrero native has been a Saints fan his whole life, but it wasn't until 1993 that he became Abdul D. Tentmakur. The Saints got off to a 5-0 start and fans were ebullient with the team's unusual early success, prompting the late Buddy DiLiberto, WWL Radio sports commentator and former Gambit Weekly columnist, to announce on his post-game show, "If the Saints make it to the Super Bowl, I will wear a dress to the game -- and I'm going to need a tentmaker to make the dress since I'm so big."
D'Aquin, well versed in affecting voices and accents since he was a kid, called the show as Abdul D. Tentmakur, a Middle Easterner who could build Buddy D such a dress. He continued to call into the show as the character, which eventually led to him performing songs that he composed about the team on DiLiberto's radio show -- and appearing in costume for all of the home games.
The Abdul character has become a perennial fan favorite. D'Aquin has sold thousands of CDs (he donates all proceeds to charity) and he energizes the fans around him at the games. "I always thought," says d'Aquin, "'Hey, I'm just a dumb offshore worker that puts on a costume and goes to the games.'" But, he says, he soon realized that it was more than that when people began to recognize him on the street or at work, even when he wasn't in costume.
Other costumed fans report similar experiences, including David Davis, aka Voodoo Man. "There's no doubt," says Davis. "When you see me, you know who I'm backing. It's all out." The Houma native, though a fan all of his life, says he felt he needed to do something extra to support the team in recent years. "The Saints can be pretty frustrating. You've got to add that extra element of fun to it to know that, hey, this is really just a game."
Still other die-hard fans express their dedication in different ways. No doubt every fan has stories of when following the Saints conflicted with work. But season ticket holder Philip Orlando let the president of his new employer know exactly what his priorities are. After accepting a job with a pharmaceutical company, Orlando realized that an out-of-town conference had been scheduled at the same time as the upcoming Monday Night home opener against the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 25. Orlando emailed the president of the company to tell him he probably would not show up for work until Tuesday morning.
A SENSE OF FAMILY ALSO PLAYS A BIG role in being a dedicated Saints fan. Jay Coogan, a New Orleans native who currently resides in Philadelphia, accompanied his father to the very first regular season game in 1967 when he was 8 years old. When his father passed away in 1993, Coogan kept his dad's season tickets despite living so far away. He travels to New Orleans for at least three games a year.
"It never occurred to me not to keep the tickets," says Coogan, a lawyer with a sharp wit. He jokes that being a Saints fan outside New Orleans earns him a certain respect. "Eagles fans are tough. They hate everybody, but being a Saints fan here, it's almost like prison-yard respect," he says of the New Orleans team's followers, who clearly have endured the most misery of any NFL fans. "They're all tough cons, but I'm the guy that might have killed three people -- and they steer clear of me."
The Saints' core fan base also extends all the way to Mexico. Marcos Hernandez Rivas has been a hard-core fan since 1987. When Pope John II visited New Orleans that year, the team's catchy name and colors came to Rivas' attention. He gave up his passion as a soccer aficionado and became a Saints fan.
Just like other Saints die-hards, Rivas dresses up for the games, whether he's watching them on satellite TV or traveling to one of the two home games that he has attended -- including an 18-hour bus ride to San Antonio last season. Rivas calls his alter ego El Santo, based on the Mexican wrestling icon of the same name. He wears the traditional Mexican wresting mask as part of his costume but with a fleur-de-lis imprinted on the forehead (see the recent movie Nacho Libre for style notes on Mexican wrestling). In addition to the character, Rivas has painted his car black and gold and has a room of Saints memorabilia that he calls his own "Saints museum."
These days, distant fans can stay in touch with the local fan community via Web sites such as SaintsReport.com. Such sites satisfy the cravings of the hard-core devotees who want more in-depth analysis -- or at least more chit-chat -- than traditional media can provide.
Most notably, SaintsReport.com has been a vehicle for Saints fanaticism to forge a community that extends beyond football. A New Jersey carpenter and dedicated Saints fan named Alexander Yoncak wanted to get directly involved in Katrina recovery efforts. Known on SaintsReport forums as HammerNNails, he posted a message on the site to see if anyone wanted to team up with his carpenter skills to rebuild a house. Support poured in from lawyers to laborers who frequent the site, and the project was titled the Hammer N Nails Project. After much talk and organization, Saints fans who knew each other only by their online personas were standing next to each other as a full-time construction crew rebuilding a flooded New Orleans home.
The oldest of that crew was Paul Carson, 56, who sells deer urine to hunters from his home in the Allegheny Mountains in Northwest Pennsylvania. Carson took a trip to New Orleans with a buddy in 1974 and decided to become a Saints fan after falling in love with the city. Since 1988, Carson and his son have traveled to the Crescent City at least once a year for a home game. Like a true Saints fan, he remains optimistic about the team's future. "Did you ever hear the saying that even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while?" he jokes.
With a new a coach, some key player acquisitions, and Dome renovations in full swing, things could not look better for the Saints' faithful. No matter what happens between the home opener against the Falcons and the team's last game this coming season, true Saints fans -- in all of their glory and zaniness -- will be there to the end.
- Abdul D. Tentmakur, aka Marrero native Al d'Aquin Jr., is a perennial favorite of other Saints fans.
- Voodoo Man, David Davis when he's not in his Saints fan outfit, is a Houma native who's been a fan of the New Orleans team all his life.
- Marcos Hernandez Rivas, better known as Saints devotee El Santo, is proof that a passion for the Saints goes across international boundaries. He lives in Mexico, but has been a hard-core fan since 1987, making two trips to the United States to see the team play.