NEW ORLEANS (AP) — It sounded like an indoor Mardi Gras Indian march.
The Crunch Crew, an extended family of devoted Who Dats, gathered at a suburban-style house on Desire Drive in Gentilly Woods to watch the Saints tame the Bears on Oct. 20. Drums thundered, cowbells clanked, and everyone chanted call- and response-style rhymes toward the widescreen television on the living room wall.
"Who got the CheeWees? We got the CRUNCH! Who got the CheeWees? We got the CRUNCH! We rake 'em. We take 'em. We rake 'em. We take 'em."
Various chants broke out anytime the Saints completed a crucial play or when the defense needed extra encouragement. When an opposing player found himself mashed into the turf under black and gold, the Crunch Crew roared "Put 'em in the gumbo! Put 'em in the gumbo! Put 'em in the gumbo!" — a chant that celebrants said was originally dedicated specifically to the dirty birds of Atlanta but is now in general use.
As Crew members will tell you, the whole point is to hype the team so loudly they can hear it in the Dome. The chairs and couches are pushed way back in case second-line dancing breaks out — which it did from time to time during the Bears' undoing on Sunday.
"Who dey talkin' about? SAINTS we talkin' about! "Who dey talkin' about? SAINTS we talkin' about!" the group chanted.
The man behind the madness is school bus driver and drummer Kenneth Miles, known to all as Captain Crunch. "I'm a party guy; I keep everything going," he said, laughing.
Miles said he's always been a drummer. He was one of those kids who produced homemade drum mallets from sticks, rags and rubber bands. For years, he has drummed for the Flaming Arrows Mardi Gras Indian tribe as they marched through the 7th and 8th wards.
"The guys in the 7th Ward used to call me the bucket man, because I played a bucket," Miles said.
But how did Indian-style chanting get mixed up with Saints fandom?
Miles said he and his buddy, the late Roy Hughes, started drumming during Saints games back in the bad ol' days in 2003 or 2004 when the team never seemed to rise above mediocrity. Rhythmic rhymes popped up spontaneously.
"We love singing Indian songs," he said. "We just combined it with the Saints."
Dawn Miles, known in the Crunch Crew as The First Lady, said that back after Hurricane Katrina and the flood in 2005, when the Saints were stranded in San Antonio, Miles and Hughes composed the chant "Tears in the dome. Nobody home. Tears in the dome. Nobody home. "
When the team was especially disappointing, the nascent Crunch Crew sang, "We're going to take those coordinators and feed 'em to the gators."
Tyrus Thompson sat beside the Captain during the victory over the Bears, pounding an hourglass-shaped drum. Thompson said he's been drumming since elementary school, marches in a second-line band and raps.
"Let's just say, we're using African drums," Thompson said, when asked to describe the Crunch Crew style. "Each drum carries a different tone. It's very rhythmic, it's a touch of jazz, soul, we try to change it up. We might try a sports anthem like 'We Will Rock You." But under it all, he said, lies the familiar New Orleans street sound. The chants are timed so that "each phrase comes in on a different type of beat."
Miles said the family football gatherings started gaining momentum in the post-Katrina recovery era. Maybe the damage and disruption made the homey gatherings seem more precious. Maybe it was because, like a miracle, the Saints started winning, which made rooting much more rewarding. Whatever the cause, more cousins, neighbors and friends began joining the parties.
The way the Captain remembers it, the name Crunch Crew grew out of the Saints bounty scandal in 2012, when the team got a reputation for, shall we say, especially spirited contact.
As the Captain put it, "back then, they were crunching 'em."
But the First Lady thinks the name had popped up long before that.
The Oct. 13 game against the Jaguars was a first for the group. Miles said that roughly 30 Crew members saved up for a trip to Jacksonville to cheer on the Saints. On the nine-hour bus trip, the Crew honed their chanting in preparation for invading enemy territory. But it turned out the Florida football fans were completely welcoming.
"The fans aren't snobbish like they are in Chicago and Atlanta," Miles said.
The heat of the daytime outdoor game was "like being in an oven," Miles said. But "we did a little short chant in the stands. Everybody was, like, shocked to hear that."
During one Sunday game, Mile's son Keenan became distracted somehow and allowed the grilled chicken to linger over the charcoal for a bit too long, resulting in it becoming partially charred. He made the best of his barbecue blunder by saying the chicken had achieved Saints colors, black on one side, gold on the other side.
Thus, the chant "Black on one side. Gold on the other side! Black on one side. Gold on the other side!" was born.
Barbecued chicken is just part of the game day feast that accompanies Crunch Crew gatherings. As the Bears suffered at the hands of Teddy Bridgewater and company, lemon pepper chicken wings sizzled in a double fryer in the driveway, the Captain distributed deep-fried pork ribs and turkey necks boiled in a big crawfish pot.
It may be football finger food, but there's nothing casual about the preparation. Chris Amos is a truck driver by trade who runs a small seafood boiling business on the side. He said he adds orange halves to the turkey neck boil in order to add a little acidity while avoiding the sharpness of lemons that one finds in crawfish boils. It gives the dish "depth on the palate," he said.
The outdoor food is only half of it. In the kitchen, Anita Joyce Lynch, who is Captain Crunch's mother-in-law and is also known as Queen Crunch, served up a buffet of red beans and rice, gumbo, sandwiches on pistolettes, and real, old-time crawfish bisque, the type with the stuffed shells, the type with so much pepper that it makes your nose run. She said she had some steaks in reserve to toss on the grill later.
"Nobody has breakfast because they know they're going to eat there," said Crunch Crew founding member Troy Lee of the football feast. "And there ain't no doggie bags going home either. It's good soul food. It's past party food. We have Sunday dinner during the game."
When Lynch is satisfied that her 40 or 50 or more guests are well-fed, she joins in the Crunch Crew cacophony in the living room, pounding a cowbell with a soup spoon. Besides chef and Who Dat cheerleader, Queen Crunch has another important role. Before the game, she gathers the group in the living room for a prayer in which she gives thanks for the food and asks for the safe deliverance of the Crunch Crew to and from the party.
"And of course," she said, "we also pray for the Saints to win."
Information from: The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate, http://www.nola.com
Posted on Mon, November 4, 2019
by BY DOUG MACCASH, The Times-Picayune/ The New Orleans Advocate undefined