The day after Michael Mauti’s dramatic blocked punt and recovery for a touchdown against Atlanta, Mandeville Mayor Donald Villiere showed up at the home of Mauti’s parents to present the city’s favorite son a proclamation declaring “Michael Mauti Day” along with a key to the city.
Which leaves Keenan Lewis and Delvin Breaux, Mauti’s Saints teammates who also are locally born and bred, wondering, “Where’s ours?”
“He should have given us keys, too,” Lewis said. “Maybe he’s saving them.
“But I’m going to have to call that guy.”
Added Breaux, “I guess I didn’t get one, because I live in Covington. But he can still come to my house if he wants to.”
And if Villiere doesn’t show up, surely somebody else will.
At some point — beating Indianapolis on Sunday would be as good a reason as any — New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and a bevy of other local politicians will get in on the act and start honoring our native sons who also wear the Black & Gold.
Surprisingly, there haven’t been that many of them. It could be that players do better without the distractions of playing close to home can bring.
In fact, in Lewis and Breaux, both native New Orleanians plus Mauti, whose father, Rich, remained in Mandeville after his playing days with the Saints were over, there are, for the first time in memory, three players are on their hometown team at the same time.
And while it may sound corny, for those guys, playing for the Saints means more than a paycheck.
“I can’t think of anything better than having a team you’ve rooted for when you were a kid and probably wore their jerseys as a Halloween costume, and then suddenly that’s your professional work outfit,” said Saints coach Sean Payton. “There are a lot of real positives there.”
And few negatives, unless you count the friends and relatives, some of whom you don’t remember, who ask for tickets, loans and other favors.
Tyrone Hughes, who prepped at St. Augustine and was the Saints fifth-round draft pick in 1993, filled so many ticket requests in his rookie season (the team charges players for them), that it ate up a sizable chunk of his salary.
The next year, Hughes’ mother would tell the same people the price. That stopped the practice.
“It comes with the territory,” Lewis said. “You learn to deal with it pretty quick.”
As you do with fans, especially after a defeat.
“When you’re from here, you know exactly how much the fans care,” said Lewis, who dedicates every game to his late grandfather, the late Rev. Joseph Lewis, described by Keenan as “the biggest Saints fan in the world.”
And, Lewis added, that comes through wherever he goes.
“They’ll tell you exactly what they think,” he said. “They don’t care if you’re with your family or what.”
Both Lewis and Mauti have the advantage of having played in the league before coming to New Orleans, Lewis for four years in Pittsburgh and Mauti for two in Minneapolis. So they can deal with any distractions.
But Breaux, whose story of recovering from a broken neck when he was a senior at McDonogh 35 that kept him from ever playing at LSU to starting cornerback with the Saints after two years in Canada seemingly gets better every week, is only now realizing things about his new celebrity status.
When he and wife Kasey recently went grocery shopping at a Covington Walmart, they were stopped several times by fans wanting selfies, which he readily accommodated.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Breaux said “I keep thinking they could have been me a few years ago.
“So I really enjoy meeting the fans. They’ve had nothing but good things to say to me.”
Imagine, then, the reception for Mauti — who fits Payton’s description, because he once wore a Kyle Turley No. 68 jersey to go trick-or-treating.
The night after the Falcons game, he attended the Mandeville-Slidell game which he watched wisely from the sidelines than in the stands.
“I got to speak to the team before the game,” said Mauti, who was an all-state linebacker for the Skippers before going on to star at Penn State. “Hopefully, I got them fired up a little.
“But after that, I tried to keep a pretty low profile.”
Lewis is not just a frequent presence at Landry-Walker, his prep alma mater. He gives back in many other ways, such as paying for locker room updates.
“Keenan is such a positive influence,” Landry-Walker coach Emmanuel Powell said. “He talks to kids about his life experiences and stresses things like how much character counts.
“He’s a real hero to them.”
Lewis’ love of his roots is so strong that on his arm he has a tattoo of the state of Louisiana with 504 inscribed inside it and Algiers below.
He also talks about wanting to coach at Landry-Walker when his playing days are over so that, “maybe one of those guys can go to the NFL and play in the Super Bowl like I did.”
Maybe even with the Saints.
Then it’ll be keys to the city for everybody!