this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; By SHELDON MICKLES Advocate sportswriter Published: Oct 26, 2007 Unlike old teammate Joe Horn, Michael Lewis won’t have to make peace with former coach Sean Payton after the New Orleans Saints play the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in Monster ...
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Mickles: Lewis takes high road with Saints
By SHELDON MICKLES
Published: Oct 26, 2007
Unlike old teammate Joe Horn, Michael Lewis won’t have to make peace with former coach Sean Payton after the New Orleans Saints play the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in Monster Park.
Unlike Horn, Lewis took the high road after having his contract terminated by the Saints on June 15 — 3 1/2 months after Horn said he felt “betrayed” by Payton when the Saints released him upon rejecting a pay cut.
After his new team, the Atlanta Falcons, played the Saints in the Superdome on Sunday, Horn mended fences with Payton. He said he gave his old coach a hug after deciding to let bygones be bygones.
So when Lewis goes against the Saints, they will be facing one of the most beloved players in franchise history for the second straight week.
It was Payton who called Lewis to his office in mid-June to tell him the Saints were going in a different direction with a younger kick returner. It was a move the soon-to-be 36-year-old Lewis saw coming.
“When I got the call at home, I told my wife what was going to happen,” Lewis, who was signed by the 49ers on Sept. 25, said by phone Thursday. “I don’t have a problem with anybody over there. Things happen, and I wasn’t going to be all mad and angry about it.”
It would have been easy to go kicking and screaming, however. A New Orleans native, Lewis became the darling of Saints fans as “The Beerman” went from driving a beer truck to making the Saints roster without playing a down of college football. He became an All-Pro and left as the club’s all-time leader in both punt and kickoff return yards.
One of the tiniest players on the field each week, Lewis’ sheer speed, large heart, electrifying moves and willingness to succeed endeared him to his teammates and fans.
“I just told Sean that I was grateful for what New Orleans did for me,” said Lewis, who joined the Saints in 2001. “How am I going to be mad about that? They wanted to go in a different direction.”
Lewis, who tore knee ligaments in the second game in 2005 and missed the first six games last season because he was on the physically-unable-to-perform list, knew it could have happened sooner.
“I was on the PUP list last year,” he said. “They could have cut me then. I told coach that I appreciated them keeping me on.
“I just accepted it like a man. My time was up, it was time to move on. I told Sean and I called (General Manager) Mickey (Loomis) and told him how I felt. Mickey said they’d understand if I was mad. I said, ‘I’m not.’ ”
Lewis wasn’t ready to give up on a career that seemed so unlikely 10 years ago, so he continued to stay in shape. He even got some calls and words of encouragement from Horn as training camps wound down.
Several teams told Lewis they would keep him mind, but when the 49ers called him on Sept. 24 he jumped on the first plane to the West Coast the next morning. In three games, he’s averaged 7.4 yards on 13 punt returns — with a long of 23 — and has one kickoff return for 16 yards.
After being disappointed with his team’s return game in the first three outings, Niners coach Mike Nolan said he is glad to have Lewis.
“He’s added a spark to our return game and he has saved us some field position by fielding balls that were not getting fielded and were hitting the ground,” Nolan said. “It hasn’t really been noticed with his numbers, but he has saved us field position and has done a great job.
“I like being around him, he’s a real pro,” he said. “He works at it. He’s serious about his job. He fields the ball and has good hands. He has explosiveness, and, at some point, hopefully he’ll break one.”
Payton is well aware his team will be challenged in that area Sunday.
“Michael Lewis is someone we have a ton of respect for,” he said. “We understand the threat he possesses, so we’re going to have to do a great job on coverage, fit the right gaps, and do all the right things you are supposed to do in covering a good kick returner.”
Lewis said he talked to former teammate Devery Henderson last week, but has not spoken with anyone this week.
“I’m staying low in the bushes right now,” Lewis said with a laugh. “It’s going to be strange going against those guys, but I’m good with it. I like the excitement.
“It’s going to be nice to see how they’re doing and everything. But once the whistle blows, all that stuff goes out the door.”
Saints center Jeff Faine, who strained his left pectoral muscle against Atlanta last week, is expected to be a game-time decision for Sunday’s matchup with the 49ers.
Faine did not participate in Thursday’s practice for a second straight day and will be reevaluated again Sunday, Payton said. It seems Faine will be unlikely to go considering an offensive lineman has to raise his hands and arms and take on onrushing linemen on pass plays.
“He has a pectoral strain,” Payton said. “It’s pretty sore and it limits you in how much you can move and expand and block. We’ll see where he’s at.”
Payton said surgery is not an option and it’ll just take time for Faine to feel when he’s up to returning. If he can’t play Sunday, six-year veteran Jonathan Goodwin would take his place in the lineup.
Payton also said defensive tackle Brian Young, who had fluid removed from his left knee twice this week, was able to work on a limited basis Thursday and is making progress.
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