Back when he was a little fella, Michael Mauti was always being asked if he wanted to grow up and play for the Saints, just like his daddy did.
That didn’t happen.
But Sunday, Mauti gets to experience the next best thing — coming to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome as a second-year linebacker with the Minnesota Vikings to face the team whose uniform his father, Rich Mauti, wore for six seasons and who just happens to be appearing at the Saints Hall of Fame Museum before the game.
“It’s a dream come true for me,” said Michael Mauti, who prepped at Mandeville before going to play at Penn State, Rich’s alma mater as well. “Really, I’m excited just to be able to come home to see everybody.
“Would it have been better to be in Saints uniform? Absolutely. But I love it up here in Minnesota, too.”
Michael being a Viking has caused a small rift in the Mauti family.
What to wear?
Mom Nancy and older brother Patrick will undoubtedly be in Vikings gear. But older sister Rachel, who was the biggest Saints fan among the three Mauti kids is reportedly leaning towards Black & Gold.
And as for Rich?
“I’ll probably just come in something neutral,” he said.
Spoken like someone who parlayed a career spent mostly as a special teams player into lasting popularity with the fans plus a successful real estate career.
Black and gold Mauti, Meredith, Scoggin signs — decorated with numerous fleur-de-lis are ubiquitous around the north shore.
“That was against my better judgment,” Rich said. “I thought we should have gone with something more subtle.”
Michael, who was born six years after Rich’s playing career ended (with Washington in 1984), understands the split emotions.
“I was a big Saints fan growing up,” he said. “I had a whole uniform and loved running around on the field at the Superdome.
“When they won the Super Bowl, I was excited as anybody. It’s my hometown team, and the fact that my dad played for them makes this very special.”
But while there’s happiness in the Mauti family about the homecoming, it’s been a rough week for the Vikings and a frustrating start for the season for Mauti.
All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson, one of the league’s premier players, has effectively been indefinitely suspended after child abuse charges were brought against him in Texas.
And Mauti has been inactive for the first two games because of a foot injury.
He could have played in last Sunday’s game against New England, but the Vikings elevated Joe Banyard from the practice squad to replace Peterson, and Mauti, who had been limited during practice, watched from the sideline as the Vikings lost to the Patriots 34-7.
“It probably just gave me a little more time to get healthy,” Mauti said of his foot injury. “As for the other stuff, I’ve not watched or listened to it.
“We miss AP, but I’ve prepared like I normally would, which means shutting everything else out.”
Being injured and playing in trying circumstances is nothing new for Mauti.
At Penn State, where his father also played, he twice suffered torn anterior cruciate ligaments, the second in the next-to-last game of his senior season, during which he had become the face of the program during the firing of Joe Paterno over the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
The injury dropped Mauti, a two-time All-Big Ten player, from a projected mid-round draft pick to the seventh round, meaning, like his father who was an undrafted free agent in 1977 back when the draft had 12 rounds, he would have to fight to make the team.
Mauti did, but, like his father, who had nominally been a wide receiver, was primarily a special teams player. Mauti got in on only 15 defensive snaps as a rookie.
Then the Vikings fired coach Leslie Frazier after last season, meaning Mauti would have to prove himself to a new head coach, Mike Zimmer and staff.
But again, Mauti made the cut.
“That’s an awesome thing he’s been able to do,” Rich Mauti said. “To go in not fully healthy and make the team and then to adjust to new coach and system, that shows how much focus and desire Michael has.”
Sounds like someone worthy of cheering for on Sunday.
No matter whose uniform he’s wearing.