Growing up in North Louisiana we never saw Saints games on television or knew anything about the Saints. The only NFL teams we were exposed to were the Cowboys, 49ers, Steelers, Giants, Packers, and Patriots. Consequently, Dallas was just a few hours away. So, we were flushed with Cowboys promotion more than any other team. In fact, for many folks in the North, Dallas was the only team they knew anything about period.
North Louisiana’s infactuation with the Cowboys actually has more to do with Dallas’ impact on North Louisiana than it does about the Cowboys franchise. People in North Louisiana have always felt disengaged from South Louisiana. Dallas indirectly welcomed North Louisiana with open arms and provided options for its struggling economy.
Migration To Dallas
It all started in the 80’s. While everyone tried to figure out who shot ‘JR’ on the hit TV Show Dallas major corporations were actually moving to Dallas. There were jobs… good paying jobs… which influenced many people from the Monroe and Shreveport areas to relocate to Dallas. It was very common growing up for half of your family to live in Dallas while a few stayed behind in Louisiana.
For many families, 75-80% of them moved to Dallas. Usually the patriarch or matriarch would stay behind in rural North Louisiana towns. Today, Dallas is full of third generation families with North Louisiana roots but are Texas born and Texas raised.
New Orleans Was Different
Growing up, the only encounter many of us had with New Orleans was Mardi Gras or Bayou Classic. New Orleans was literally another world. The food was different. The music was different. They even talked differently than people in North Louisiana. However, I grew up loving it. From the energetic Bounce Music of the 80’s to the funny sounding ‘Who Dat Say Dey Gon’ Beat Dem Saints” chant… it all just grabbed my attention and pulled at my curiosity.
I remember seeing a stupid commercial on television in 1989 about witnessing the ‘Dome Patrol’. They had that crazy ‘Who Dat’ song playing in the background. I thought to myself, “those people keep losing but they are having fun anyway!” I loved the irony of it all.
We were often only told lies and negativity about New Orleans. We actually grew up believing everybody in New Orleans practiced Voo-Doo and there were witches and vampires all over the city. When we’d visit New Orleans we often heard of the crime and all the visible cemetaries confirmed the superstitions. To most people in North Louisiana, New Orleans was weird and dangerous. They identified more with Dallas than New Orleans. I often felt like an outkast anyway. So, the mysteries surrounding New Orleans won my attention at a very young age.
My parents took us to Bayou Classic every year and I fell in love with the rich culture of New Orleans. For most people from the North it was just a weekend of sinful pleasure. For me, I wanted to be part of the culture, the history, and the legacy. I had a bag that I wore over my head which read ‘Aints’. I just wanted to do anything to fit in.
There Is A Difference
Living here for nearly a decade I still notice the distance between North Louisiana and South Louisiana. Its like two separate states. You’ve got Louisiana and then you have New Orleans.
The way of life is different. The culture is almost night and day. Popeyes even tastes different in South Louisiana. Seriously.
New Orleans was experiencing economic growth in the early 90s during the era that North Louisiana began to decline. That difference made New Orleans an island on its own but it left North Louisiana complacent, void, and disenfranchised from the mouth of the state. Dallas gave many folks in North Louisiana a lifeline and it remains special to them for that reason.
Along with the infactuation of the many opportunities in Dallas their franchise was actually winning during that time. When you love a city you represent it. For most people in North Louisiana, Dallas is their second home and they represent it.
Something happened during Hurricane Katrina which was completely unexpected. That catastrophe caused North Louisiana to care about New Orleans very deeply. I witnessed people in shelters, displaced and confused. I watched kids be teased in their new schools because of their clothes. I watched families suck up their pride and rebuild from scratch. North Louisiana immediately recognized the impact New Orleans has on this whole state.
That tragedy was the first time many people in North Louisiana had ever dealt so closely with people from New Orleans. I know many people from New Orleans who had never gone beyond Baton Rouge and some had never been outside of New Orleans. They too learned much about another fraction of their own state while relocated in the far parts of North Louisiana.
The tragedy which divided so many families was actually the catalyst which built a new bridge between the North and South parts of this state thus strengthening what is now one of the Top 10 NFL bases, “The Who Dat Nation”.
People like being associated with anything successful. Let’s face it. You can sit New Orleans inside Dallas and still have remaining land. Dallas’ economic arms stretches much further than New Orleans. Yes, Dallas has several NFL Super Bowl Rings.
But, in all fairness, there is a logical reason behind it. Before 1994, the larger markets had more influence on the best players. With a free budget those markets could always lure in the best prospects and keep winning franchises. In 1994, the NFL issued a Salary Cap which limited how much money each team could pay personnel. It gave every franchise, whether large or small, an equal and fair playing field.
In 1996, Dallas won the Superbowl with players leftoever from its previous super team encountered before the salary cap was implemented. Since then, the team has not only never won a Superbowl but they haven’t even been to the Superbowl. The team hasn’t even been to a Conference Championship since then.
Rebirth of a Base
In 2006, after New Orleans was destroyed by Katrina the city received a gift. However, the gift was shared by a whole region rather than just one city. The Saints were coming home. The team was a symbol of hope for millions and it launched the rebirth of a disenfrachised base of people.
It’s roots spread deep within the gulfcoast along parts of the U.S. which were crushed by the storm as well. Southern Texas, Southern Mississippi, Alabama, and parts of Florida were rebuilding along with New Orleans. Even in North Louisiana, silent fans finally had a reason to be proud. Suddenly, a small community became a movement.
Most of these people were already Saints fans but with a losing franchise you don’t have much to cheer for. In fact, a myth about Saints fans is that they only became Saints fans after 2009. Living here for almost a decade, I find that to be very untrue. Most Saints fans have always been Saints fans but their voices were just unheard due to the media’s intimate relationships with larger markets.
In 2006, the Saints made it to the NFC Championship during a time where half the citizens hadn’t even returned home. Because these citizens were relocated to other parts of the country, the Saints’ fanbase grew. Close to 100,000 people moved to Dallas after Katrina creating a heavy New Orleans community in the DFW Metroplex.
In 2009, people watched a team stand up very bravely for a State thats often overlooked, left out, and ostracized from the tables of greatness. It’s a new era in Louisiana and Dallas. People are proud of who they are and where they are from, no matter where they currently live.
When a person says they are a Cowboys fan, more than likely they were attracted to Dallas during an era of success. They were winning in economics. They were winning with opportunities. They were definitely winning in the NFL. Most importantly, the evolution of Dallas became the pride of America, thus the nickname, “America’s Team”.
When a person yells ‘Who Dat’… it’s not necessarily just about the team. Its about protecting a Culture, defending a Legacy, and energizing the Pride of a city which lifted a region and proudly became a movement… standing together as one.