Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis — childhood friends, O. Perry Walker teammates and ex-Steelers — meet again Monday night when Lewis’ Saints host Wallace and the Dolphins. Let the trash-talking begin.
“This is the first time I’m going to play against Keenan since we were younger, about 7 or 8 years old. ... I’ve always been on his team, so this is a little different.” MIKE WALLACE, Dolphins wide receiver
For only the second time in his five-year NFL career, Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace will play in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against his hometown team Monday night.
But it will be a lot different than the last time the O. Perry Walker High School graduate returned home to face the then-reigning Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in 2010.
For starters, Wallace, who played the past four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, will be wearing the Dolphins’ new-look uniforms after signing a five-year, $60 million contract this spring.
On the other side of the line of scrimmage will be Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis — Wallace’s childhood friend and former high school teammate, whom he’ll play competitively against for the first time in about two decades.
After playing their college ball more than a thousand miles apart (Wallace was at Ole Miss, Lewis at Oregon State), they were reunited by the Steelers in the 2009 draft — both in the third round.
They went their separate ways in free agency in March when the Dolphins gobbled up Wallace, the top wide receiver on the market, and the Saints got Lewis to agree to a five-year, $25.55 million deal to bolster their wobbly secondary.
When they did part ways, few could’ve seen them meeting up in the Monday Night Football spotlight — even though they knew they would have to play as soon as they signed with their new teams.
“It’s going to be a little different,” Wallace said on a conference call Wednesday. “This is the first time I’m going to play against Keenan since we were younger, about 7 or 8 years old. ... I’ve always been on his team, so this is a little different. I’m excited.
“I’m up for the challenge (and) I know he’s up for the challenge,” he added. “So it’s going to be a good time.”
On Thursday, the affable Lewis walked into the locker room after practice and saw a group of reporters waiting for him.
“What y’all want to talk about?” he deadpanned.
Of course, Lewis knew the talk wasn’t going to be about the Saints’ 3-0 start or his first interception for his hometown team in their 31-7 blowout of the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
“It’s going to be, you know, Saints vs. Dolphins,” Lewis said when asked about Wallace. “It’s important as a guy I’ve (known) all my life. So I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a heated battle.”
Wallace said the same, noting that while they’ve never had to face each other in a real game, they’ve had many a battle at practice — especially when they were in training camp with the Steelers.
“I killed him,” Wallace said with a laugh. “Nah, sometimes he got me and sometimes I got him. 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.”
While the two admit they talk on the phone daily, Wallace said Lewis beat him to the punch and called him Tuesday night to start the trash-talking.
“Keenan already called me asking if we had a problem,” Wallace said. “I was like, ‘Nah, we’re good.’ That’s just Keenan; he’s going to talk crazy. I started not to answer the phone, but that’s my brother ... so I couldn’t do it to him.”
Wallace said Lewis talks more trash on the field than anybody he’s ever played with, but he doesn’t expect to hear a lot of it Monday night.
“That’s not good for him,” said Wallace, who has 12 receptions for 152 yards with one touchdown. “He might not want to start doing that. He’d better be quiet.”
Lewis admitted that he’s the bigger trash-talker of the two and he plans on giving his best friend a heavy dose of it.
“Oh yeah, definitely; I’m going to give him everything I have ... he knows that,” Lewis said. “Even if he catches (the ball), I’ll be in his face a lot.”
Still, Lewis said it’ll be strange going against someone he’s known almost forever.
“We did everything together,” he said. “It’s feeling kind of weird having to go up against him. But I guess it’s going to be what it’s going to be.”
Wallace noted he had a friendly comeback for Lewis when Lewis called after last week’s game against the Cardinals and told him he had an interception.
“I told him I saw it, but saw that he dropped two (interceptions),” Wallace said.
On the flip side, Lewis said he’ll remind Wallace of the catches he didn’t come up with — and then settle it when they meet for real Monday night.
“We’ve been talking about this day since the day we signed,” Wallace said. “I told him to be ready and he told me the same thing, so we’re excited about it.
“We’ll continue to talk every day. At the end of the day, it’s all love. I wish the best for him. Just not on Monday night.”