Kalani Simpson


By Kalani Simpson

Saints' Lewis
arrives from nowhereville

MOST of the guys here at the Pro Bowl have been All-Americans forever, stars for life.

Oh, a few of them will claim underdog status. They were stars at Division I-AA schools. They were fourth-round draft picks, perhaps. They grew six inches, over a summer, or switched positions or were considered just a shade too slow.

At every turn, they overcame "adversity."

But none of them can touch the long-shot tale of Michael Lewis of the New Orleans Saints.

His story could be read to children at bedtime.

Kurt Warner himself would shake his head in disbelief.

Coming from nowhere?

This year Lewis set the NFL's new single-season record for combined kick and punt return yardage. He took three back for touchdowns. And now he's at the Pro Bowl. That last one a secret goal fulfilled.

"That's my own personal thing that I had in my mind," he says. "I never told anyone."

How could he?

On that spot of the NFC roster where it lists their colleges, Lewis' reads simply: "none."

On the Web site, his bio is left blank.

But, oh, he has a story.

THERE IS A lot of "wound up" in Lewis' narrative. He wound up trying out here. He wound up playing there. Perhaps the best beginning is when he was working (he was always working), driving, on the job for a janitorial company. He heard on the radio they were starting an indoor football team.

He wound up trying out, and made it, and led the league in touchdowns. His Louisiana Bayou Beast went 15-1, and won the championship.

"In fact we even came over here and played," he says, against the now-defunct Honolulu Hurricanes, and a year later, against the now-defunct Hawaii Hammerheads.

Soon, the real arena league was calling. And a year after that, the pros.

He went to camp, but was released. Then he worked out with two more clubs. He went to the practice squad, to NFL Europe for a season. To another camp. And then he made the team.

At age 29, he'd broken into the NFL.

But after five games, he was released, and back on the practice squad.

"I had problems catching punts," he says. "I'd never caught punts before, so fielding the ball was the problem that I had. After that, it was like, you know, practice squad, I'm working, you know, working, catching punts and everything."

Work. Lewis played just one season of JV football in high school. "After that I started working," he says, "and that was the most important thing."

In the indoor league, he drove a beer truck to make ends meet, a day job, just like they did in the old days.

But this year he was ready, and he was great. A star with the New Orleans Saints.

Wait, it gets better. He's from New Orleans.

His Pro Bowl peers can only imagine a story like this.

"They understand," he says. "They know the hard work that I put in, just to get here.

"You know," he says, "it's hard to get to this league."

Kalani Simpson can be reached at

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