What does it mean?
Into an atmosphere fogged by general incompetence and rampant rumor, Mandeville’s Michaul Mauti, who as a 16 year-old kid in 2006 was part of the Superdome’s most cathartic roar, injected bright life. One moment, Sean Payton seems to be shrugging his way through the football week and kicking the tires of potential getaway cars to Miami. The next, his gang of undrafted scrubs is pulverizing the undefeated Falcons on national TV.
Mauti from Mandeville High echoed Gleason. Meanwhile, McDonogh 35’s Delvin Breaux spent half a game manned up on football’s most feared weapon, Julio Jones, and utterly eliminated Jones from the contest during those snaps:
Breaux matched up on him 34 times as the primary man in coverage. Jones made two catches on those plays, a curl for 5 yards and a slant for another 4. That’s it.
In the Dome, a few of us in our row began to laugh at Jones, and at Matt Ryan, who spent much of the night looking for his ace, finding Breaux instead, and then running for his life. On one failed deep attempt, Breaux matched the blazing fast Jones step for step while simultaneously muscling the infamously powerful Jones off his route without committing illegal contact.
A month ago, Breaux was an internet joke. Now, the joke’s on the jokers: In these short weeks, he has developed into one of the best people at his job on the planet.
What is with Sean Payton these days? What’s with the Miami rumors? What’s with the perception that he’s burnt out, coasting, comfortable, or whatever the hell else we mean when we describe him using words like that?
Is it possible he knows what he’s doing, and has known all along? Does he have a plan, and is his suspiciously calm, almost detached demeanor actually a sign of his confidence that the plan is working as he intended? No, he didn’t mean for his team to start 1-4 and to get obliterated in Philadelphia, but he hasn’t seemed surprised by that result. Low margin for error, he’s said. His team is young and has to recognize its own margin for error, he’s repeated.
Well, his team is young. His defense is the youngest in the NFL, and his offensive line features youthful, undrafted backups in its key guard positions, and his wide receivers, sans the injured Marques Colston, are all in their second year.
But these kids have now won two consecutive primetime games in the Superdome, after the team’s longest streak of home losses in decades. Last year’s veteran-laden self-styled Super Bowl contender couldn’t preserve the sacred electricity of the Dome at night, and now, suddenly, Hau’oli Kikaha and Bobby Richardson and Willie Snead and Stephone Anthony and Delvin Breaux can?
Don’t you get the feeling Sean Payton knows something about all this that you and I don’t?
The similarities were — literally — uncanny. They were uncanny in a way that disqualifies the qualifiers that accompany every story written so far about the second Gleason block. Okay — certainly Mauti’s play does not transcend the boundary of sports in the way only Gleason’s ever has. Thank God there was no reason for it to.
But it means something.
Immediately before Gleason’s block, the Saints forced Falcons quarterback Michael Vick to roll out of the pocket on third down, and in pursuit linebacker Scott Fujita caught him and sacked him by forcing a fumble that went out of bounds. Immediately before Mauti’s, the Saints forced Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to roll out of the pocket on third down, and in pursuit pass rusher Kasim Edebali caught him and sacked him by taking him to the ground.
The duplicate plays set duplicate stages. In a theatrical reveal so insane it crushes every narrative device we’ve relied on to explain the Saints from 2012 until last night, the hero of the moment was the son of a Saint from Louisiana, and he was in the stadium on September 25, 2006.
Just before the 2015 season, Michael Mauti was a Minnesota Viking. ESPN staff writer Ben Goessling filed a story on Mauti from Vikings camp:
The Minnesota Vikings linebacker was starting his sophomore year at Mandeville High School in August 2005, as a promising player on a team that wasn’t expected to be very good. He’d played in the school’s Jamboree game in Chalmette, Louisiana, on the southeast shore of Lake Pontchartrain on Aug. 26 of that year. His teammates were buzzing over the possibility that a hurricane might cancel school the next Monday.
“We were all celebrating,” Mauti said. “And we came to find out that stadium we played in was under 15 feet of water.”
Goessling lets Mauti finish the story:
“I got out of practice for that Monday night game, and that was the loudest I’ve ever heard any stadium,” he said. “I get goose bumps just thinking about it. That was the most moving football moment I’ve ever witnessed — and I’ve been a part of a lot. People were crying before the game. That was one moment I’ll never forget. For a couple hours, people forgot about the fact they didn’t have houses to go back to. They just wanted to get their minds off of it. And that’s what the Saints brought them that year. Besides them winning the Super Bowl, that was the best moment I think I’ll ever witness.”
And the Vikings cut him, and the Saints signed him, and at the precise moment when, thanks to the trade rumors and apparent lack of talent and the meltdown in Philly, Sean Payton seemed ready to run out the clock on New Orleans, this kid does that?
Maybe it’s nothing, but you don’t believe it’s nothing and neither do I, at least here today in the afterglow. Delvin Breaux has gone from meme to shutdown cornerback in a month. Drew Brees has a shoulder again. A defense full of untested children battered one of the NFL’s best offenses only days after being ripped apart. On the sideline, Sean Payton smirks knowingly.
Steve Gleason’s blocked punt against Atlanta symbolized the survival of a city and region. Maybe — just maybe — Michael Mauti’s symbolizes the survival of a football team.