The best animal to goose a crowd is always a dog, and since the first game of the first season of the New Orleans Saints, Gumbo has been there, somewhere near the end zone, cheering the home team and growling at our rivals. Gumbo, who was once on four legs and is now on two, was a gift from the Louisiana Restaurant Association on September 12, 1967. During a team luncheon at the Jung Hotel five days before the premiere season opener, association representatives presented Saints players, coaches, and minority owner Al Hirt with a six-month-old, 75-pound Gumbo. Hirt, the famed musician, welcomed Gumbo with a rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” which he played on the trumpet.
Gumbo was a St. Bernard puppy, a breed chosen because St. Bernard Parish is adjacent to Orleans Parish just to the east. (The name “Gumbo” was chosen in a contest. Out of 3,000 entries, Gumbo was the obvious choice in a city that knows and loves its local cuisine. More than that, as the Saints point out, gumbo is “a famous traditional Cajun meal loved by young and old, rich and poor (a mix like all people who love and support the Saints).”
Sir Saint, the team’s other mascot, had been with the team from the start, but made his first sideline appearance in 2008. If you can’t tell the two apart, note that Gumbo wears a jersey with a double zero on it. Sir Saint is the one in the helmet, and he wears number one. Also, Gumbo is a dog.
I asked Gumbo about this — why he gets zeroes and Sir Saint gets a one — and he seemed pleased with the situation, responding, “Woof, rrrrwoof WOOF. WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF. Woof. Arf.” (Sir Saint did not respond to a request for comment, and why would he? He’s number one.)
In the mid-1980s, Gumbo vanished from the sidelines. He was replaced in media by Huddles, a Ziggy-like cartoon football player. Then, in 1991, Seth Green — yes, that one — was even the unofficial mascot for a while. (Cha-ching!) But by the late 1990s, Gumbo was back and better than ever. This time, Gumbo was bipedal and with a head conspicuously larger than his body. Indeed, he had grown to superhuman (and superdog) size.
The larger-than-life Gumbo even had his own dog around this time — Fetch Monster, an Australian shepherd who would run out on the field and fetch tees after kicks. In 2000, Fetch Monster left and Gumbo took a break, and a new mascot named Mambo joined the party. Mambo is a…well, I don’t know what Mambo is. A Muppet-like court jester. He wasn’t as terrifying as King Cake Baby would one day be, but he didn’t last long, either: The people wanted Gumbo. (Mambo changed his name to Mojo and became the mascot of the New Orleans VooDoo until the team’s dissolution in 2015.)
The takeaway is that by 2008, Gumbo was back, and Sir Saint with him, and with their powers combined, the two helped the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV in 2010.
If you haven’t been to a Saints game, you might have still seen Gumbo out and about at various fundraisers, community events and parties. He and Sir Saint attend about 150 events per year, not counting football games, because what’s the point of living on the Gulf Coast if you aren’t going to keep a busy social calendar? Gumbo is here, and he’s here to stay. And where Gumbo goes, joy — and home game wins — are sure to follow.