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Where ‘Who Dey’ came from and what it means now

‘It caught on like wildfire.’
A Cincinnati Bengals fan cheers during the first half of an NFL football game between the...
A Cincinnati Bengals fan cheers during the first half of an NFL football game between the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Nick Cammett)(Nick Cammett | AP)
Published: Jan. 26, 2022 at 7:20 PM EST
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - It’s the most distinctive cry of Bengals fans—”Who Dey!”

It’s also the name of the fan base itself: “Who Dey Nation.”

And the dramatic coda of the “Bengals’ Growl” fight song, sung at the top of 60,000 lungs after every Bengals touchdown at Paul Brown Stadium.

“Who Dey?! Who Dey!? Who Dey think gonna beat them Bengals?! Nooooo-body!”

(Can we pause for a moment and just appreciate how great that song is? Certainly better than this trundling dirge.)

But where exactly did “Who Dey?” come from? Turns out it dates to the team’s first run to the Super Bowl—Super Bowl XVI in January 1982 against the San Francisco 49ers.

Some in the NFL intelligentsia claim Bengals fans co-opted a variation of the “Who Dat?” chant from New Orleans Saints fans, which they themselves borrowed from a New Orleans High School.

Locals counter the phrase arose from a call-and-response between the crowd at Bengals games and Hudepohl beer salesman going up and down the aisles shouting “Hudy!”

Dave Lapham, now a radio voice for the Bengals, was a player on that 1981 team. He doesn’t know about the Saints connection or the Hudepohl salesmen but says the chant sort of just emerged.

“A lot of people are taking credit for the origin of [’Who Dey?’], but I just remember that, you know, in the stands, I remember hearing people chanting ‘Who Dey?’” He recalled. “I don’t know what the origin is, but man it caught on like wildfire.”

Chris O’Brien, a former Q102 disc jockey, says the Bengals had captured the heart of the city and, in turn, the catchphrase captured that sense of enthusiasm.

“It kind of took off from there, and everybody picked up on it, the teams and fans alike, and made a big thing out of it,” O’Brien said.

Like Lapham, O’Brien can’t pinpoint the origins of the phrase—or rather, they agree the origins were spontaneous, that it emerged from the striped orange-and-black ether like lightning on a clear day in 1981.

“‘Who Dey?’ came with such a sense of pride in the Super Bowl days,” said WLW host Lance McAlister. “You said that with your chest puffed out.”

But with the team’s struggles in the ‘90′s, the term began to flop.

“It lost its meaning and significance,” McAlister said. “In fact, it led to a lot of mockery. The answer was, ‘Everybody.’ Everybody beat the Bengals.”

And now? Well, it’s a new day, according to McAlister.

“There’s that restored sense of pride, in that boastfulness, in that chest-puffing of ‘Who Dey?’”

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