Ted Ginn Sr. was sitting in Greater Friendship Baptist Church in Cleveland on Sunday when he received the text message.

Justin Hardee had just blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown, jumpstarting the Saints' much easier-than-expected 30-10 rout over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Ginn Sr., whose son Ted Ginn Jr. also plays with the Saints, coached Hardee at Glenville (Ohio) High School.

He knew a play like this from Hardee was coming sooner than later.

"Justin's such an amazing story," Ginn Sr. said. "He worked hard to be who he is. He wasn't overly gifted, but he worked hard and developed it. He always had that intelligence and obedience to be something special."

It was the first touchdown of the rookie's young NFL career, coming in just his sixth game. He was an undrafted receiver out of the University of Illinois who was signed and then let go by the Houston Texans. The Saints picked him  him up right before the season opener and promoted him from the practice squad right before the third game against the Carolina Panthers. Coincidentally, the Saints haven't lost since. New Orleans stretched its winning streak to six games on Sunday, thanks in part to the first quarter blocked punt that ignited the onslaught.

Hardee burst right up the middle, untouched, to block Bryan Anger's punt.

"They blocked down the wrong way and left me free," Hardee said. "I saw a clear path, and I was so surprised I was so free."

Then he got the friendly bounce, reeled it in just like he hauled in passes as a receiver at Illinois and scored.

"I just wanted to show everybody that they missed out on me," Hardee said. "I didn't get drafted. Obviously nobody believed I was good enough to get drafted. ... I'm just glad for the opportunity. Obviously, New Orleans sees something in me that someone else didn't."

On a day when Saints special teams play wasn't so special, Hardee added his name to Saints' blocked punt lore.

If you follow the Saints, you already know how special blocked punts are for this franchise. Nothing can rock the Dome quite like it.

There's a statue outside the Dome to remind you of Steve Gleason's iconic blocked punt in 2006 against the Falcons that symbolizes the rebirth of this city.

And there was Michael Mauti's blocked punt and touchdown against those same Falcons in 2015. Hardee's blocked punt on Sunday was the Saints' first once since that one. 

Gleason and Mauti were in the building Sunday.

In fact, you can credit Mauti, a linebacker and special teams standout for the Saints, with the assist.

"I used a technique that Mauti taught me during the week in practice," Hardee said.

It was the first time Hardee had ever blocked a punt. He played receiver in college, where he also earned a bachelor's degree and two master's degrees.

Then he was switched to defensive back when he got to the NFL. But for now, he's making his mark on special teams. He was awarded the team's gladiator helmet for his special team prowess against the Chicago Bears last week when he delivered a bone-jarring hit on punt returner Tarik Cohen and then downing a Thomas Morstead punt at the 3-yard line.

"He is just a blue-collar kid and will do whatever you ask him," Ginn Sr. said. 

Making the day even more special for Hardee is that it came on a day when some of his family members watched their first game in New Orleans.

Hardee knows that his mom, Estella Perryman, was watching, too. She died in December of 2013 after a long battle with lung disease.

"My mom was here (watching) in the sky," Hardee said. "My dad and my aunt were here. I'm glad my biggest play was when they were here."

Hardee vows there's more to come.

"It's a true blessing," Hardee said. "But it doesn't stop here. I'm hungry . I want more. I want another one next week. I want another big play next week. That's just my mindset. I mean that with passion and everything I got in me."

Follow Rod Walker on Twitter, @rwalkeradvocate.

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