Let’s begin when Mike Wallace was just a toddler. Before the riches and hardships and stardom and loss.
Still learning to walk, the future football superstar knew how to climb. One day, which his parents Sonjia and Mike Jr. vividly remember, their youngest son slipped off a table and nearly hanged himself with his own bib.
Years later, he was an asthmatic teen. Mike — or Burnell Michael Wallace III, as he’s formally known — would routinely reach for an inhaler after sprinting through New Orleans’ humid air a little too hard, a little too fast.
The winter winds of Pittsburgh have stung his lungs — and every other part of his body, for that matter – the past few years. Sultry Miami was never far from his mind.
So when cold-weather teams like the Vikings made a pitch for 2013’s hot-shot free agent, they barely had a chance. It was time to go south, where he could breathe – figuratively, and a bit literally.
“The [Vikings] had come to the point where they were telling him, ‘You don’t have to live here, just be here during the season,’ ” Wallace’s father, Mike Jr., said by phone this week. “He wanted to get out of that snow and cold weather.”
Wallace didn’t last a day on the open market before signing a five-year contract with the Dolphins earlier this month. The deal will pay him on average roughly $12 million annually, and yet, he actually left money on the table, his dad claims.
The Vikings offered more, according to Mike Jr. , but Wallace said no thanks. The Rams and Seahawks were among the teams he said also expressed interest. The feeling apparently was not mutual.
“[Miami] feels like home,” Mike Wallace III told The Miami Herald on Thursday. “I’m just excited for a new start. On to the next chapter.”
Wallace declined to talk about the specifics of his free agent courtship. But his decision to sign with the Dolphins has helped breathe fresh life into a franchise determined to turn the page on more than a decade of futility.
The Dolphins have a new logo. They are vying for tax dollars to fund a renovated stadium. And they have new-look roster, investing tens of millions of dollars into free agents who general manager Jeff Ireland believes have already made a better team.
Wallace, the speedster wide receiver, has been the offseason’s crown jewel. Dangerous fast, Wallace caught nearly three times as many touchdown passes last year (eight) as the Dolphins’ group of receivers had combined. His knack for catching long, downfield passes is expected to open the field for Ryan Tannehill in his second year as Miami’s quarterback.
But anyone with basic cable already knows all that.
The rest of the story: Wallace is a loyal family man who has supported his hard-luck kin through tough times.
He has covered mom Sonjia’s bills since she was laid off by the state. He will give cash to his dad even when Mike Jr. doesn’t ask for it.
And he deposits money every month into the prison account of his older brother Reggie, whose five-year drug sentence at Louisiana’s Dixon Correctional Institute ends in July.
“Those are the people who took care of me,” Mike Wallace said. “We come from a rough place.”