METAIRIE, La. -- Miami Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace didn’t start playing football seriously until the 11th grade. He said lifelong friend and current New Orleans Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis was one of the people most responsible for talking him into it.
Lewis hopes he won’t regret that after Monday night.
For the first time since they were about 7- or 8-years old, the two New Orleans-area natives and former Pittsburgh Steelers teammates will face off on opposite teams. In the Mercedes-Benz Superdome of all places, right across the river from where they grew up together.
And they'll likely see a lot of each other since they typically line up on the same side of the field.
“We’ve been looking forward to this,” Lewis said. “This is a guy who talked the whole summer, trash-talking how he was going to do this and how he was going to do that. So I’m pretty sure he’s heated up right now and I’m heated up.”
“It’s feeling kind of weird having to go against him,” Lewis added. “But I guess it’s going to be what it’s going to be.”
Wallace and Lewis repeatedly described themselves as “brothers” and estimated they talk about five times per week. They grew up going to school together, running track together and spending time at each other’s houses since their families were close. Then eventually they started playing football together for high school football powerhouse O. Perry Walker, after Lewis and one of Wallace's cousins convinced Wallace to join the team.
When asked who has gotten the better of the other when they’ve faced off in practice over the years, Wallace said, “I killed him,” followed by a big laugh.
“Nah, sometimes he got me and sometimes I got him,” Wallace said. “Keenan is a great player. He’s a smart guy, he’s going to play really well. That’s my brother. I have all the confidence in the world in him. But I’m against him this week, so you know I’m out to kill him.”
The stakes couldn’t be higher for their first showdown in 20 years.
Both teams are 3-0, and both players were among the marquee free-agent signings around the NFL this offseason. Wallace signed a whopping five-year, $60 million contract to give the Dolphins a big play threat they were lacking. Lewis signed a five-year, $26.3 million contract to help the Saints tighten up the back end of their defense.
So far, Wallace has been up and down. He had one catch for 15 yards in Week 1, nine catches for 115 yards and a touchdown in Week 2 and two catches for 22 yards in Week 3.
Lewis, meanwhile, has helped turn the Saints defense into one of the NFL’s most surprisingly stout units. He and fellow starting cornerback Jabari Greer have done an outstanding job of preventing big plays from wide receivers down the field -- against the likes of Atlanta’s Julio Jones and Roddy White, Tampa Bay’s Vincent Jackson and Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald.
Lewis had his first interception as a Saint during last Sunday’s 31-7 victory over the Cardinals. ... Alas, Wallace gave him more grief for the one he dropped earlier in the game.
“As soon as he called me after the game, he said he caught an interception. I told him that he dropped two,” Wallace said. “That’s my brother, so I don’t see the good things he does, I only see the bad.”
Wallace insisted that Lewis is the bigger trash-talker of the two -- and the biggest trash-talker he’s ever met. But despite their friendly jabs, they clearly have a ton of respect for each other and each other’s games.
“He’s real good. I feel as though he’s probably one of the best in the league. I rate him up there with all the top guys,” Lewis said. “You look at his numbers, he’s been successful since he’s been in the league. (He’s a) good deep threat. They underestimate his route-running and things like that, but I’ve been going against him and working with him. I feel it’s going to be a tough challenge.”
Just to be safe, though, Wallace said he doesn’t plan to join Lewis for any meals before the game.
“He might try to put something in my food,” said Wallace, who also plans to avoid the traditional New Orleans Monday staple of red beans and rice.
“You know what red beans do to you. So I don’t know if that’s a good thing for me to eat,” Wallace said. “I’m going to keep it light. I have to be running real fast on Monday night.”
Otherwise he'll never hear the end of it.