Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Tribute to the Yat

With less than a week before the big game, we here in New Orleans are preparing for the slowest week in the city's history. I expect it to pass with the voraciousness of molasses. So to help pass the time I want to pay tribute to the greatest collection of fans in all of pro sports: the Who Dat Nation.

Like the city of New Orleans herself, the Who Dat Nation is a melting pot of different cultures, races, and creeds. Any given Sunday inside the Superdome you will find
all walks of life. I venture to say that you will find no other mix of people like it. It's a complex mix that is not always easily understood, especially from an outsiders point of view. So I'll try to help.

To understand the Who Dat Nation is to understand their leader, the late Buddy Diliberto. A radio legend and fan favorite, Buddy Diliberto should have never been allowed near a microphone. His obnoxious lisp and wild rants would have all but gotten him fired anywhere else. To him, everyone that didn't agree with him was as crazy as a squirrel. "Go eat ya nuts," as he would tell them right before he hung up.

I was always shocked that the microphone in front of him never short-circuited due to the amount of spit and flem that must have coated it with every word. Any out-of-towner listening to him must have thought it was a parody of ourselves. But despite all this he had a connection with his people, and the fans loved him for it.

Look no further than downtown New Orleans this past Sunday. Thousands of men, all wearing colorful dresses and wild hats, danced their way to the French Quarter in remembrance of the late Buddy D, who said he'd wear a dress if the Saints ever went to the Superbowl. Could this happen anywhere else? Maybe in San Francisco, but for completely different reasons. One thing's for sure: he's looking down on us, proud as hell.

But perhaps the most vocal and represented group of people that make up the Who Dat Nation is the "Yat". The Yat is a hard person to describe. They are most noticeably recognized by their unique accent, once prevalent in New Orleans but now mostly confined to St. Bernard Parish and parts of Kenner,
brah. This accent is very unique in that it is only found here and select parts of the northeast. (Think Jersey Shore, with only modest tonal differences.) How these similar accents became so spread apart I'll never know.

The thing that sets the Yat apart is how fiercely loyal they are. This, of course, starts with family. An entire Yat's family lives within a couple of blocks of one another. An entire family (and I don't mean just immediate members) will gather on a nightly basis to enjoy the fresh bounty of the land and sea. They know whats important in life, and they don't take it for granted. It's this loyalty that makes them such a great fan base.

The most obvious proof of this loyalty is the airport after an away game. Win or lose, thousands of Yats come out in droves to show their support as their team steps off the plane. It's quite a sight. Grandmother's stay out past their bedtime, children of all ages ignore the school night. They make signs and brave whatever mother nature throws at them, all to make our boys feel like the most loved athletes on the planet. You can't put a price tag on that.

Some of my fondest memories inside the Dome came from years ago when I was lucky enough to sit field level, right next to the most die hard Yats you could ever imagine. The three that stick out the most were "Coon Skin" (due to his Davy Crockett coon skin style hat that he always wore), "Drummer" (due to his stoned look and wavy hair that reached his buttocks), and "Grandma" (may she rest in peace).

I will never forget the ferociousness in which they watched the game. Coon Skin was a wild man by anyone's standard. He had that crazy look in his eye at all times. He would yell incoherently and taunt the visiting fans, even though they couldn't understand a word of his crazy drunken dialect. And boy, could he make some noise. He would grab the railing in front of his seat with both hands and bounce off the metal wall in front of him with both feet, resembling a caged and rabid orangutan. We loved him for it.

Drummer would more or less just stand there, stoned out of his mind, nodding his head in agreement with anything that came flying out of the mouth of Coon Skin. He never said much, but in his own way he was always supportive.

Then there was Grandma. What a special old lady. She was the undisputed leader of the group. She led the chants. She yelled at the opposing team on the sideline. She had
the glove. And to anyone who was lucky enough to sit next to her knows exactly what I'm talking about. Every time the opposing team was on offense she would pull out an old leather baseball glove with the fingers cut out, meticulously put in on until it fit just right, then, gripping the rail with her other hand, she would beat the ever living hell out of that metal wall with her fist. She was 80 years old if she was a day, but her bones were not brittle.

She could also drink circles around John Belushi. Hell, they all could, but she was something else. It was through our talks that I learned that her son, Coon Skin, owned a grocery store down in Marrero. It had been in the family for a few generations and thanks to Coon Skin, it wasn't going anywhere. He lived a modest life by any measure, but when it came to the Saints he'd break the bank. And these were the Aaron Brooks days. Talk about heart.

In the season that reopened the Superdome I would often look down to see what had happened to these great people. My initial instinct was that they didn't survive the hurricane. I knew damn well they didn't evacuate. There was no way they were leaving all they ever knew behind. They were perfectly happy dying right where they were born.

But to my delight, I located Coon Skin amongst the crowds. He no longer bears the coon skin hat that gave him his namesake, but he is still there, yelling and inadvertently spilling beer all over his neighbors with every wild hand gesture.

If Drummer is still there he must have cut his hair, for I don't recognize him otherwise.

And as for Grandma, may she rest in peace. I don't know for a fact, but if I had to guess she didn't make it through the storm. But don't be sad for her, she is still wearing that glove up above, looking down and rooting on her boys. Her legacy will live on.

In short, it is people like this that make up the Who Dat Nation. They're humble, caring, compassionate, and would do anything for a complete stranger. They are proud, they are loud, and they really don't care what anyone else thinks. We could all learn a thing a two from them. These are the greatest fans in all of pro football, and maybe in all of sports.

I'll end with a quote from Buddy D. "When you go to Heaven after you die, tell St. Peter you're a Saints fan. He'll say, 'C'mon in, I don't care what else you done, you suffered enough.'"

No longer, Buddy D. No longer.

1 comment:

  1. oh, how i remember grandma. do u remember when when a fire alarm or something went off in the dome? she proceeded to cover her ears and scream, raising her voice higher than the pitch of the alarm itself...those were the days u could show up to the dome and buy a ticket for $15 on the street. we weren't winning, but we still had so much fun!