Casket Case


New Orleans Saints fans are hardcore. Some of them want to take their fanatical Who Dattery with them when they die:

If the Saints get their way, you won’t be caught dead in the latest piece of fan gear.

A custom casket seller with an unusual storefront in the Esplanade Mall is under fire from the team over his $3,000 “Who Dat?” model casket, a black-finished steel coffin fitted with a gold satin pillow and fleur-de-lis decals.

Jonathan Lahatte, a former Orleans Parish sheriff’s deputy who opened his ‘Til We Meet Again shop last fall, says he has no plans to slip away gently.

“You can be a diehard Who Dat all your life. What better way to celebrate it than be buried with it for all eternity?” Lahatte said from his store in a back corner of the mall, behind Great American Cookies. “Right now I believe I’m not doing anything illegal, so I’m going to keep it the way it is.”

The Saints beg to differ. They sent a letter Tuesday to Lahatte’s attorney — his brother Joey — asking that he stop selling or advertising the Who Dat coffin.

The move marks a morbid turn in the NFL’s enduring campaign against trademark infringement, which has long targeted sellers of knock-off T-shirts and collectibles. For a while in 2010, the league fought over the phrase “Who Dat” itself, before backing off in a fight with local retailers, some of whom had adopted the ubiquitous team slogan.

Lahatte, who once worked in Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s mounted horse unit, thought he’d slain the issue even before he opened his store in October, after the team contacted him over his fleur-de-lis design.

“We immediately agreed to change it. We sat there for like two hours. We increased the size of the middle two points, the curvature of the outer two points. We elongated the top and fattened it,” he said. “We thought we were OK.”

Lahatte began running TV ads that include both the Who Dat coffin and one licensed by the NCAA for departed LSU football fans. The 30-second clip first shows a military coffin with “Taps” playing, then moves on to the two team coffins, with chanting fans of both teams. “Our heroes. Our team,” the announcer intones. “How will you be remembered?”

Dr. A wondered if fans in any other pro sports town would want a team coffin. My immediate reaction was: Green Bay Packers and Boston Red Sox. Anyone else? I’m not surprised about the LSU casket, I expect to hear tell of Crimson Tide, Seminole, and How Bout Dem Dawgs coffins any day.

This time around the Saints and the NFL aren’t going after the coffin dude for using Who Dat, but for the shape of his fleur de lis. Casket Boy points out the absurdity of this:

The team’s fight over the fleur-de-lis frustrates him, Lahatte said.

“It’s been around since the 17th century. Should we be paying royalties to the French government?” he said. “I’m a small business owner with a wife and two kids, trying to live the American dream. All of my money is invested in this. If they were to sue and win, they’re just going to get caskets.”

I don’t think he’s just talking through his Lahatte, guys. Once again, the NFL is bullying a small businessman with a bizarre dream. They should just bury the hatchet and not try to entomb this morbid dreamer.

This story gives an entirely new meaning to the term coffin corner kick.

That is all.