Mike Wallace has big plans for Monday night’s national television audience — two, if not three, touchdowns, and of course, a win over his hometown New Orleans Saints.
But Wallace’s greatest feat of strength might be keeping his composure.
Wallace will be playing in his beloved New Orleans, against his best friend and in front of his big brother, finally back in his life after being absent for so long.
“You don’t want to put too much into it,” Wallace said last week during a marathon media session in advance of Monday’s game. “You don’t want to get too emotional. Things can go bad for you.”
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In a way, he has already won. He has made it, with the $60 million contract signed in the offseason all the proof needed. His mom, Sonjia, is long retired; she spends her days learning new recipes on the cooking channel. Family members are in South Florida almost as much as they’re in the Bayou.
And schoolmate-turned-lifelong friend Keenan Lewis will be where he belongs: lined up opposite him, with an entire year’s worth of bragging rights at stake.
“We’ve been looking forward to this,” said Lewis, the Saints cornerback who was on Wallace’ high school team a decade ago.
“This is a guy who talked the whole summer, trash-talked about how he was going to do this and that. I’m pretty sure he’s heated up right now and I’m heated up.”
But this is ground already covered.
So is Wallace’s deep emotional bond to New Orleans, a city he and his family was forced to flee when Hurricane Katrina ripped the roof off their home. There’s no hiding Wallace’s feelings for his hometown; he has its logo — the fleur-de-lis — tattooed to his neck.
But Monday night’s game, in front a raucous Superdome crowd, will be truly special because of who else will be there: His big brother Reggie.
Reggie Wallace wasn’t at the game in 2010 when his little brother first returned to New Orleans as a pro. He was in prison.
Mike is more than a decade younger than Reggie, so while they used to play catch in the neighborhood, the two never played on any teams together growing up.
Little brother stayed out of trouble — starring at O. Perry Walker High School, the University of Mississippi and ultimately with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Big brother couldn’t avoid it.
A role model
“He wasn’t doing the things that I was trying to do,” Mike said. “That’s my big brother and I love him to death. He was my role model, but I really didn’t want to follow him.”
Reggie Wallace’s New Orleans Parish arrest record dates to 1992, when he was caught illegally carrying a weapon. He has since pleaded guilty to a string of theft and drug charges that kept him locked up for most of Wallace’s pro career.
But he got out in June, and is now on a steady road to rehabilitation, with Mike Wallace helping keep him on the right path.
They have spent the past three months making up for lost time.
Reggie recently spent two weeks in South Florida. But that was just prelude to Monday night.
At long last, Mike Wallace will get to play professional football in front of his big brother.
“This is exciting,” the Dolphins’ star receiver said. “It feels like he’s out there with me. He’s going to be at the game, make a lot of noise.”
When asked whether Wallace would give his brother the football, should he catch a touchdown, he chuckled. Probably not, he said.
Making a statement
Wallace has never scored in the stadium that has been a symbol of his great city’s revival.
That’s why he needs to catch two, if not three Monday night (Mom will want one, too).
And although Wallace understands that this is a business trip, he made it a point to escape the team hotel for a couple hours during the weekend.
He has reserved 20 tickets to Monday’s game, going only to the closest of his close. He can’t wait to give Reggie his.
“I really want to be around him as much as possible,” Mike Wallace said. “That’s my brother. I love being around him.”