Buddy D, MVP: The birth of the New Orleans Saints bagheads
It was a dark time for the Who Dat Nation. Six games into the 1980 season, the Saints were winless, and they didn’t look at all like they were capable of turning things around. So, the imminently colorful local sportscaster Buddy Diliberto, who had been known to report on the Saints while standing in front of cemeteries and funeral homes — whose residents, he said, played with more life than the beleaguered Saints — handled it the only way he knew how: with humor. And so, on a now-legendary October night, just before going on the air for his nightly broadcast on WVUE-TV, Buddy D pulled a paper bag over his head in honor of “the New Orleans Ain’ts” — and vowed to wear it every week until they won. The baghead tradition was born.
The wearing of bagheads has since spread throughout American professional sports for fans of hapless franchises. Fortunately, after finishing the magical 2009 campaign as Super Bowl champions, the Saints are no longer the perennial laughingstocks they once were.
- The genesis of the baghead can be traced to Week 5 of the season, when Bobby Lecompte, a bartender at Buddy D’s bar off Clearview Parkway — inspired by the Unknown Comic of “The Gong Show” fame — suggested Diliberto do the same on the air. After the next week’s loss, against the Detroit Lions, Diliberto took the idea and ran with it.
- By the time the Los Angeles Rams showed up in town to play the Saints, then 11-0, on “Monday Night Football” on Nov. 24, the baghead trend was a full-on sensation, with a national audience treated to a Superdome filled with bagheads, many of them decorated with sequins and Carnival beads. The Rams won 27-7, naturally.
- Following the Rams game — and the national attention the bagheads received — Saints head coach Dick Nolan was fired.
- The bag Diliberto wore on the air before that Rams game was one decorated by a fan with Christmas lights — which were plugged in as the cameras rolled. “I could hear bulbs popping and felt the shock and twinges,” Diliberto was quoted as saying in a 1995 story in The Times-Picayune. “I thought, God, will (Saints owner John) Mecom love this — I electrocute myself on live TV!”
- The Saints would end up shocking the world by winning the 15th game of that 1980 season, against the Jets — and in the snow, no less. The following week, they would lose the last game of the season, but that Jets win would keep them from finishing the season winless. Their final record: 1-15.
- Bagheads weren’t Diliberto’s only contribution to Who Dat fashion. For years, he promised to wear a dress and dance through the streets if the Saints ever reached the Super Bowl. He died five years before the Saints’ Super Bowl run, but former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert and thousands of Who Dat fans made it a point to pay him tribute after the Saints punched their ticket to Super Bowl XLIV. Calling themselves “Buddy’s Brawds,” they all donned dresses — and wigs and hats and heels and boas — and paraded from the Superdome to the French Quarter in January 2010.
- In 2008, the Duplass brothers made a horror film called “Baghead,” about a mysterious bag-headed figure tormenting a group of friends staying overnight in a remote cabin. The Duplasses, who are from New Orleans, said they got the idea when, as children, they saw the Superdome filled with people wearing bags on their heads, a sight they said struck them as funny but also a little scary.
Buddy Diliberto was one of the biggest critics of the New Orleans Saints. But he was also among the team’s biggest fans. So it’s only fitting that he gave the franchise one of its most lasting traditions. While Saints fans haven’t had to endure anything like the 1980 season in a while, there were occasional baghead appearances during their recent back-to-back-to-back 7-9 seasons. If nothing else, it should serve as a warning to the team to tread carefully. Schwegmann’s might be gone, but Rouse’s still has paper bags — and Who Dats won’t be afraid to put them to good use should they feel the need.