NEW ORLEANS - Sen. David Vitter, Congressman Charlie Melancon and Saints head coach Sean Payton are all weighing in on the "Who Dat" controversy that has picked up steam since it was first reported that several t-shirt shop owners had been told to stop selling the shirts because the NFL owns the rights to "Who Dat" on any merchandise that might try to tie the phrase with the Saints.
Vitter sent a strongly worded letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell saying that he will print his own t-shirts and challenging the league to sue him.
“This letter will also serve as formal legal notice that I am having t-shirts printed that say "WHO DAT say we can't print Who Dat!" for widespread sale in commerce. Please either drop your present ridiculous position or sue me,” Vitter said in an e-mail.
Vitter wasn't the only one to come to the defense of the local rally cry. Representative Charlie Melancon, who is challenging Vitter for his Senate seat, issued a statement and a petition on behalf of the merchants selling the gear.
"No one owns 'Who Dat' except for the Who Dat Nation," said Melancon.
Saints head coach Sean Payton seemed to agree with the sentiment that has been running strong in the local community.
"I've read a little bit about it. But I don't know enough about it. ... The people who are running these small businesses, I think we're fans of those people," said Payton. "I don't think anyone can own Who Dat, personally. I think it's for everyone to enjoy."
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league acts when it thinks the rights of the Saints are being infringed upon by people looking to make money off of the Saints images.
"If Who Dat is used in a manner to refer to Saints football, we own trademark rights to it." he said. "We get involved when there is use of the Saints logo or “Who Dat” used in combination with Saints logos or football imagery."
Attorney Bruce Spizer says that marketing Who Dat merchandise that is free of the official Saints logo should legally be allowed. He said if t-shirt shop owners have the money and time to wage a legal battle against the NFL, they may have a decent case because of how common the term Who Dat has become.
"You can even lose your trademarks because it becomes so familiar and becomes a generic term," said Spizer. "I just don't see how the Saints can say a term that originated back in the Vaudeville days is owned by the NFL, I don't see it."
Vitter said in his letter that examples of the phrase in minstrel shows and by a local high school football team showed that the iconic rally cry was used in other places before it was adopted by the New Orleans Saints.
"Who Dat" was probably first heard in New Orleans minstrel shows well over 130 years ago. Much more recently, but before it was used in connection with the Saints, it was used as a rallying cry by St. Augustine High School in New Orleans,” he said.
“In the 1980s it was adopted by Saints fans in a completely spontaneous way. Only later did any legal persons, including the Saints and the NFL, try to claim it through registration.”
According to musician and producer Carlo Nuccio, he, more than 25 years ago, arranged the music of what's since become a sort of Saints battle cry by adding the Who Dat cheer to the song, 'When the Saints Go Marching In.' Aaron Neville recorded it and even performed it on video with Eyewitness News Anchor Eric Paulsen back in the early 1980s.
"We brought the chant into the 'Dome," said Carlo Nuccio.
Around the same time, Nuccio says he officially took ownership of the term ‘Who Dat.’
"I and my partner Steve Monistere were the first to trade mark it," said Nuccio.
According to documents from the Louisiana Secretary of State's Office, he's right. Who Dat was registered in 1983 to Steve Monistere and Carlo Nuccio for the purposes of selling records, tapes, t-shirts, and bumper stickers.
So where did Nuccio get the idea to use Who Dat?
"I first heard St. Aug. say ‘Who Dat’ talking about beating St. Aug.," said Nuccio.
Darren Dixon knows the chant all too well. The St. Augustine High School track coach is also a 1980 St. Augustine graduate and former football player.
"I used to play quarterback about 80 pounds ago," laughed Dixon.
And that's when he was introduced to the combination of those two seemingly simple words.
"I remember in '78 or '79, our fans started the Who Dat," said Dixon. "It was Who Dat, Who Dat, Who Dat say they going to be beat them Knights."
Today, however, it's the NFL trying to claim roots to Who Dat by sending area t-shirt shop owners cease and desist letters ordering them to stop selling Who Dat shirts.
As for Nuccio and his trademark, it apparently expired back in 1993, according to records from the Louisiana Secretary of State's Office. Someone did register the term Who Dat three years ago. The group: New Orleans Louisiana Saints, L.L.C.
According to a Saints spokesperson Dave Lawrence, there are others who hold varying versions of the Who Dat trademark. Lawrence said it's the NFL though who enforces trademark infringement on the team and referred Eyewitness News there for any more information.