Mike McKenzie and Michael Lewis with Saints bloggers Deidre and Jonathan Roniger
When I was growing up, I dreamed about being a lot of things…a doctor, an architect, even a gymnast. What I did not appreciate at the time was that these are jobs, what people do…not who people are. This distinction was overwhelmingly reinforced for me last Sunday night when I met former Saints Mike McKenzie and Michael Lewis in the Mercedes Benz Superdome.
Saints fans know these beloved players well. Mike McKenzie signed on with the team in 2004 from the Green Bay Packers having an immediate impact on the team. He brought confidence and swagger to a stagnant secondary, and hope that our defensive struggles would be behind us. One of the most unforgettable memories was when Mike rejoined the Saints in week 12 of our Superbowl winning season in 2009. With a decimated secondary, he signed and started in that fateful game against the Patriots. Mike McKenzie, despite not having played in a year due to injury, picked up where he left off…without missing a beat. He rose to the challenge of playing in a new system, ignited a wounded defense, and inspired players and fans. On the field, he showed to us what leadership, perseverance and loyalty are all about.
Two years later, Mike models those same admirable traits off the field. In his own indomitable way, he continues to win hearts and positively influence communities with his 34 Ways Foundation. The organization strives to provide guidance and encouragement for children in New Orleans, Miami and Memphis through football camps, activities and programs. By creating an enriching and encouraging environment, children are supported in attaining their goals and turning their dreams into reality.
Michael Lewis’s story is nothing short of inspirational and remarkable. The former Pro Bowler and kick return specialist came to his current position as the Saints Ambassador through an unlikely and difficult path. This local hero, born and raised in New Orleans, did not play college ball. He paid his dues for a couple of years in indoor professional football and arena football, eventually signing with the Eagles in 2000. Lewis was cut before the start of the season, returning to New Orleans and accepting a job delivering beer. The man affectionately referred to as “Beer Man” won a spot on special teams for the Saints in 2002 and is currently the Saints' all-time career leader in punt returns and punt return yardage. His hard work and determination, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, are a testimony to his discipline and character.
We were fortunate to be able to interview Mike McKenzie for sportsblog.com and the School of the Legends. What I did not expect was to meet someone so outgoing, engaging and real. He stayed for the bulk of the game, taking pictures and passing his Superbowl ring around…not because he had to, but because he wanted to. And to top it off, he brought in Michael Lewis for round two.
These athletes are a breath of fresh air in a time when professional sports is riddled with poor behavior and questionable integrity. Everything I knew or read about Mike and Michael was confirmed last Sunday. These are authentic men that display a genuine love for the game and its fans. They seem humbled for having the privilege to play America’s game and make a contribution to the team and their communities.
Mike McKenzie and Michael Lewis represent everything that is great about sports - unwavering spirit, integrity, and resolve…true role models. You can’t fake it. It is in your heart and who you are.
…so after all these years, I finally know. I want to be like Mikes.