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saintz08 02-02-2003 11:49 PM

Lewis Qand A
Saints' Michael Lewis Q&A, Part One: 'When I step out on the field, I give 100 percent'
Posted on February 2, 2003
"Watch this. Watch this kid run," former New Orleans general manager Randy Mueller told reporters, during one of Michael Lewis' first games as a Saints kick returner in early 2001. "You know what he was doing when we found him? He was driving a beer truck."

And the legend of the Beerman was born - the fan favorite who never went to college, the working class hero who went on to star with three other Saints in this year's Pro Bowl.

Coverage of the Pro Bowl begins at 4:30 p.m. today on ABC.

What neither Mueller or anyone else could have known was just how strong Lewis' will was - something deeply challenged when ball-handling problems in 2001 sent him back down to the practice squad. A record-breaking 2002 season followed.

Michael Lewis: I started in Philly in 2000. I just wanted to go to an NFL camp and play in one game. It didn't even matter if I didn't make it to any more. I just wanted to be able to look back and say: 'I gave myself that opportunity.' I could say I was actually in camp and I was in the game.

When I got released from Philadelphia, I got the call from New Orleans. They gave me the opportunity. (Later, after several fumbles in the 2001 season) when I got put on the practice squad, I had other teams calling me. But I was saying that by them giving me a fair chance to make the team, I was just going to show my loyalty.

TNS: Your practice regimen is already legendary.

Lewis: I don't mind going out there and busting my tail every morning. If I've got to catch 100 punts a day, whatever I have to do to get better, I don't have a problem getting up and going out there and doing my job.

TNS: We all know about the perks. What has been the downside of your new life? The media? The travel?

Lewis: I love everything. Playing arena ball, I traveled a lot. But last year, everybody was talking about how the Beerman can't do this or he can't do that. They build you up and tear you down. They're with you for a minute, then all of a sudden they're against you.

TNS: It's true. Personally, and as a team, you've seen both ends of the spectrum. After winning that first playoff game in 2000, expectations were high. Then a late-season slide turned some of that love into something different. Same thing this year.

Lewis: That's football. People are looking from the outside in. They don't understand that all the other teams get paid to do their job, too. You can look at it both ways. You can say we had a downfall. You can blame it on injuries. But no one seems to understand that these other teams also get paid to come out and do what they have to do to win.

From the perspective of a player, I look back at the record of the Bengals: A lot of the games that they lost were close games.

TNS: Does having a team like Tampa in your division make it interesting?

Lewis: Quote, unquote, Tampa was going to walk through the division. When you hear things like that, we have a chip on our shoulder. They're already counting us out even before we get started.

TNS: What kind of influence was (free agent and former Patriot) Bryan Cox? He seemed like the right kind of guy to come in and give the team some leadership.

Lewis: If I do something, he'll sit down and try to figure out what he can do to help out even more. That kind of makes you feel good: I've got all 10 of these guys out there working for me. That's why, when I step out on the field, I give 100 percent.

If you check the records, I probably have less than 10 fair catches after more than 40-something punts kicked to me. I have enough confidence in those guys that they are going to do their job.

saintz08 02-03-2003 09:10 AM

Lewis Qand A
Saints\' Michael Lewis Q&A, Part Two: \'Staying grounded is the important part\'
Posted on February 3, 2003

A Pro Bowl nod Sunday found Michael Lewis helping New Orleans finish a tough 2002 season on a high note. He was joined by three other Saints - running back Deuce McAllister, receiver Joe Horn and special teamer Fred McAfee - in Honolulu. But Lewis says the best is yet to come: \'There\'s more for me,\" the former 30-year-old rookie says. \"I\'m still learning.\"

TNS: After injuries to the Saints offense hampered both quarterback Aaron Brooks and running back Deuce McAllister, you ended up being one of the bright spots late in the year. Did you feel some pressure?

Lewis: With me, I don\'t worry about the pressure. I know what I have to do when I step out on the field. My main goal was to put my offense in the best field position.

TNS: A record-setting year - both with the team and in the league - followed. You set marks for most combined kickoff and punt return yards in NFL history, and broke Saints records for kickoff and punt return yardage. Then came Sunday\'s Pro Bowl. Did that bring some sense of satisfaction?

Lewis: No. There\'s more for me. It shows that hard work and determination pays off. That\'s what my goal was. But I\'m still learning. I think that you probably won\'t see the best of me, because of how late I got started. But it\'s all about the learning process. I don\'t know all the concepts of this game yet.

TNS: Were you surprised by how complicated the NFL game is versus what you once saw on television?

Lewis: I used to tell my agents if I get a fair chance, I know I can make it. I just needed a shot. But it\'s not complicated. Football is football. It\'s hard because they\'re out there busting their tails just like you. So you have to work a little harder. It worked out for me, though, because I have a strong work ethic. ... You\'ve gotta love this game. You\'ve gotta love getting up every morning, going out there in the off season. Having only a month off. We\'re back at work in March. Going in there, working out every day, having off-season workouts - it\'s almost like a year-round job.

But I don\'t have a problem getting up and going out there and doing my job. This is what puts food on my table.

TNS: Some feature stories in national magazines have related trips around town with you. It seems like everybody in New Orleans knows the Beerman.

Lewis: Being from there, you run across a lot of people. I also do a lot of things that people don\'t know about. I pop up at different parks and talk to kids, just get out of my car in my old neighborhood and walk around.

Staying grounded is the important part. I don\'t have an entourage. Mainly, it\'s just me. I just want the fans and people to know that football players are approachable.

By me being from the work world and going into football, I know how it is. I don\'t mind stopping and holding a conversation with anybody. Sometimes I\'ve seen guys get real aggravated when people ask for autographs. It doesn\'t bother me.

TNS: What do the Saints need to do to turn that last corner in a season? Some more defensive pieces?

Lewis: I don\'t know what\'s happening on the defensive side. Like our offensive coordinator always says, we have to score more points than the other team. We cannot determine what our defense is going to do. I try to put my offense in the best field position possible, to give us the opportunity to score as much as possible without having to drive 80 yards down the field.

TNS: It seems that this year, special teams was a real weakness in the NFL. Blocked kicks, missed tackles. Seems there are several burners in the league, but not many like you who also like to hit.

Lewis: I\'m always on the side where people are tackling me. So, when I get my chance, I will throw my body in there to make a tackle.

TNS: Do you hope to get more involved in the offense - or is special-teams play always going to be your thing?

Lewis: So far, special teams is going to be my thing. But when I\'m called upon as a receiver, I\'m going to step out there and make plays. The good thing is Aaron has enough confidence to come to me, so I\'m not just running routes for no reason. That makes me feel even better.

TNS: NFL clubs everywhere probably have guys walk up at camps and say: \'I\'m fast. Just give me a chance and you\'ll see.\' You\'re the one-in-a-million situation where that turned out to be true.

Lewis: There\'s a lot of talent out there. You\'ve got people who have all the talent and all the tools, but who never got that opportunity. They\'ll look back and say, \'I should have done that.\' If you think you have the skills, give yourself a chance.

I didn\'t call the Saints up and get a work out, though. I had to go through stages to get where I\'m at. I played semi-pro ball - for nothing. I played on teams where we only had 17 guys playing the whole game. I play for the love of the game.

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