After the San Diego Chargers cut him, wide receiver Robert Meachem drove to the team’s facilities with his 4-year-old daughter to pick up the last of his belongings. The father explained to his girl that he needed to find another job and asked her if she would be mad if they had to move.
The girl said, “No,” and she asked her dad if he would “get to play for the other team.” When Meachem asked her what team she was talking about, the girl answered, “Who Dat, daddy!”
Meachem grinned. He replied, “Yeah. I hope so.”
The 28-year-old dad’s hopes were fulfilled Tuesday when he signed a one-year contract to return to the New Orleans Saints, for whom he played in his first five seasons in the NFL. His encore performance in New Orleans began with practice Wednesday. After the session, he spoke with reporters at length about his biggest humiliation as a professional — the year he spent with the Chargers in 2012.
He also talked about how his second stint in New Orleans was his opportunity to “have the last say-so.”
“At the end of the day, there’s a reason why I’m back here,” Meachem said. “I’m going to author the end of this book.”
Seated at his locker under several framed photos of his children, Meachem acknowledged that perhaps his main problem in San Diego was that he felt pressured to “be somebody else.”
That pressure was understandable. After catching a total of 155 passes for 2,453 yards and 24 touchdowns for New Orleans and helping the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV, Meachem accepted a contract guaranteeing him $14 million to join the Chargers.
San Diego was seeking to replace its No. 1 receiver, Vincent Jackson, who had left for Tampa Bay. But the Chargers did not even come close to getting a replacement in Meachem, who tallied a mere 14 catches for 207 yards and two touchdowns before his release Saturday.
In retrospect, it’s quite telling that both of Meachem’s scores happened in a 31-24 Chargers defeat against the Saints Oct. 7 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“It felt like a home game,” said Meachem, who kept a house in New Orleans. “It just felt like I belonged ... there.”
The Oklahoma native didn’t feel he belonged in San Diego. Meachem and his wife didn’t make friends there in the same manner they had made in New Orleans, he said. Their children “didn’t really have anybody to play with.”
He said he missed Saints fans, who supported him and are known to pack the Superdome even for preseason games. He realized the hard way he wouldn’t be nearly as effective in the Chargers offense as he was under coach Sean Payton, who drafted him out of Tennessee in the first round of the 2007 draft.
It cost Meachem his gig.
“God put me in a situation where I had to grow as a person, not just as a player,” he said about what he learned from his misadventure. “You have to take chances in life. I want my (children) to grow up and understand that (they) could take a chance and, if it doesn’t go right, at least you tried it.”
The criticism was scathing preceding and following Meachem’s release from the Chargers. One report pointed out he would turn 29 in September and said his body had broken down, citing knee procedures, an ankle surgery and a toe repair he’d undergone.
Another piece portrayed Meachem, at best, as one of the two worst free-agent signings in Chargers history.
But none of that discouraged Payton from contacting Meachem the day after he’d been cut. None of that halted Payton from subsequently adding Meachem to a wide receiver corps that was already five deep.
“We have a pretty good idea of who the player is,” Payton said in his first remarks about repatriating Meachem. “He’s someone that we feel can stretch the field. He does a real good job of making plays above his head.”
Saints quarterback Drew Brees added that he reviewed plenty of film on the Chargers in preparation for games against common opponents, and it was obvious San Diego didn’t use Meachem “like you would’ve thought.”
“We spent some time together (Tuesday) and then out here (Wednesday), and watching him run around, he looks as good as ever,” Brees said. “The guy we saw on (Chargers) film and incorporated in their game plan wasn’t the guy that we knew.”
Meachem said he was prepared either to face the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday or wait patiently to re-debut later — whatever was decided by Payton, who didn’t let on about his intentions.
Meachem was just thankful Payton dialed him up after the Chargers sent him packing.
“It was a conversation between a coach and a player that was well-needed for the player,” said Meachem, who smiled throughout his interviews with the media. “Maybe not for the coach, but for me, at that moment, I needed that conversation.
“Now, I get a chance to really show the world my gift again.”
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