Like the rest of the New Orleans Saints this past week, Tim Lelito really needed a hug.
And he got one. Several of them, in fact, along with numerous high fives from the second- and third-graders of Morris Jeff Community School during a visit Tuesday to promote Rotolo’s Literacy Program.
No matter that Lelito is a second-year backup center best known for snapping the ball over Drew Brees’ head in the Minnesota game. To the more than 100 kids on hand for a surprise morning assembly in the school gym, No. 68 might as well have been wearing No. 9.
“They’re from New Orleans, and I’m from New Orleans, so I love him and I love the Saints,” third-grader Myra Barnes said. “It kind of made me sad that they lost (to Dallas on Sunday), but they’re going to win next time.”
To Lelito, that kind of unqualified support was the perfect pick-me-up.
“It makes you want to keep going and keep playing for the city,” he said after answering questions (“Do you parents come to all of your games?”) and participating in a running game that seemed to have no discernable rules except that everyone was having fun. “The kids don’t realize the implications of what happens on the field.
“They just come out and see us as football players, and they go nuts.”
“I told him that he’s my favorite player and the Saints are my favorite team,” third-grader Amir Gentry said. “It’s going to be OK.
“But I’m for them even if they lose.”
Now who wouldn’t feel lots better after hearing that?
Lelito wasn’t the only player getting his spirits boosted by people he didn’t know in recent days.
Junior Galette said that more than once he’s been spotted by fans at traffic lights.
“They’ll say, ‘Hey, Galette. You’re going to pull it together, I know,’ ” he said. “That’s good to hear.
“Everybody has loyal fans. That’s part of what sports is about.”
And at the offensive line’s regular Thursday night out, several diners from other tables came by to give pats on the back and say, “Go get ’em this time.”
Now it’s hard to imagine someone deciding to disparage a group of 300-pounders with knives and forks in their hands, but tackle Zach Strief said such gestures are appreciated.
“You can try your best to stay away from the negativity, but it’s impossible,” he said. “And some of those things that are said on social media are just brutal.
“But when you’re around the fans, going to the grocery store, at the car wash or going out to eat, I hear nothing but ‘We’re behind you.’ It’s great to feel so much love and support when we’re out in public.”
And then there are the real home teams — the players’ families.
“The best part about it is, win or lose, you walk through the door and they’re excited to see you,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “Our third child, Callen, is going through a pretty good daddy stage right now.
“I walk in the door, and it’s the greatest thing in the world. I love every second of it.”
Tight end Ben Watson, like Brees a father of four, gets a similar reaction.
“You always have to have a great perspective, win or lose,” he said. “The good thing for me with my kids is that if we have a big win and I come home, it’s the same.
“We lose and I come home, it’s the same. You’re going to have highs and lows in this profession, but for me they’re the constants that help keep me level-headed.”
And sometimes, it’s the simple things that would make any of us smile.
Nobody with the Saints is more under fire than defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. His unit, fourth in the league in total defense last year, is 27th this season.
And then Friday, he found out that safety Jairus Byrd is out for the year with a knee injury.
How depressing would that be for any of us?
But when he arrived home after midnight, he had a treat in store.
“My daughter has a new chameleon,” Ryan said. “It changes colors.
“You’ve got to see it zap those bugs. It’s pretty awesome.”
Ryan, the darling of Who Datdom after last season, also had a message for those who might have lost faith.
“I don’t blame them for hating me now,” he said. “But they’ll be fine.
“Shoot, this is New Orleans. They love the Who Dats.”
Just don’t lose to Tampa Bay though, Rob, or they’ll be coming to zap you.