Getting past 'no-call' as Saints get ready for Rams — again

Christopher Dabe

NEW ORLEANS -- Blake Haney returned to his Uptown New Orleans home from section 631 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and sulked. The next morning, the 44-year-old New Orleans native powered on his computer and created the first of three t-shirt designs that led to his busiest work week since the founding of his company in 2005.

With the New Orleans Saints face the Los Angeles Rams eight months after a controversial missed pass interference penalty cost the Saints a shot at the Super Bowl, who better to get a read on the team’s unforgiving fans than those who create the popular shirts and signs made to lampoon the league and its officials?

Not since his “Free Sean Payton” shirt created just hours after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended the coach for his alleged role in the bounty scandal in 2012 did Haney move this much merchandise for his Dirty Cast t-shirt company.

“That Monday was just crazy,” said Haney, who estimated between $35,000 and $40,000 in single-day sales after the infamous no-call, the busiest day in company history.

He wasn’t the only one to experience a sales boom. Lauren Leblanc of Fleurty Girl sold a penalty flag/t-shirt set that included a voodoo doll. Home Malone founder and owner Kristin Malone quickly created a door hanger that also carried a voodoo theme. 

There are others. You don’t have to look too hard in New Orleans to find some reference to the no-call, or to some of the other key figures and moments in recent Saints history.

A recent look at the Dirty Coast website showed a shirt that showed Moses holding two stone tablets that read 28-3 with the words “Thou Shalt Not Support the Falcons” in reference to the New Orleans rival team's Super Bowl collapse in 2016.

Around here, memories are long. People don’t forget. What he puts on the t-shirt matters.

“That’s probably my favorite part,” Haney said. “Being able to make the lowly t-shirt into a billboard for social commentary, something for someone to wear. When other people see you in a t-shirt (from his company), they understand something. The shirts are a secret handshake.”

Haney began his company just before he evacuated to Lafayette for Hurricane Katrina. While there, he created one of the first designs he remembered catching on -- a bumper sticker that read, “Be a New Orleanian wherever you are.”

When he returned, the catchy designs continued. Much of what he did in the early days made references to the New Orleans he knew growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, much of which has since changed. His customer base now is a mix of born-and-raised New Orleanians and those who moved to the city and surrounding area in the 14 years since Katrina.

“What New Orleans was in the 1980s or the 1970s, they have no link to that,” Haney said. “So I think there’s been something lost in the city since it evolved.”

The changing population had Haney asking himself, “What is our role?”

By some measures, he has found success by commentating on the Saints and the perceived ineptness of the NFL, Roger Goodell and the league referees.

One popular Dirty Coast t-shirt after the no-call was made to look like an eye chart, with each line of type getting smaller until it might be necessary to squint, that reads, “If you can read this you have better eyesight than all refs in the NFL and know they robbed the Saints of the NFC championship and the Super Bowl.”

Haney created that shirt in the span of about an hour on the morning after the botched non-call. He showed the design to a few other people for feedback and then posted the image online for an immediate pre-sale.

From there, the orders came.

“Totally swamped,” Haney said, remembering the day.

The next-best seller -- and one that still gets orders -- the NFL logo-like design with the word, “NAH” in all capital letters.

At Home Malone, a New Orleans-flavored gift shop, the design for a door hanger made to look like a referee voodoo doll was completed less than a week after the no-call. Store founder and owner Kristin Malone created the design. Her store also created the popular Mardi Gras “throw me something” shirt with the image of a yellow referee flag on it.

Back then, she remembered being angered about the officiating blunder that ended the Saints’ season. “You can’t reason with something that’s unreasonable,” she said. Quickly, the mood changed. “I really believe with anything in New Orleans, no matter how bad it is, we don’t really riot,” she said. “What we do is more make fun of it. Turn it around and celebrate it together, which we saw with the parade.”

Next for the Saints is a Week 2 game against the Rams, in Los Angeles. Multiple Saints players, along with Payton, insist that what happened last January will not impact the late-afternoon game Sunday. “The relevance of the game is that you have two real good playoff football teams playing each other from a year ago,” Payton insisted. “And so that’s why it is the afternoon game (on Fox). That’s why it’s a national TV game.”

“It’s a very important game,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “It’s against an opponent that we know has a great chance of being there at the end, just like we hope to be.”

Yes, the no-call still lingers among fans.

“It’s always in the back of people’s minds,” Haney said. “We have pretty much the entire same team (as last season). They’re all pretty young -- a mix of young and veterans.”

Still with 14 games to play after this one, there’s good reason to look forward.

“A chance now to do what we did last season,” Handy said. “And not get robbed again.”