METAIRIE, La. — When the Saints’ game against Arizona ended for all intents and purposes with Keenan Lewis’ interception of Carson Palmer, he knew there was a phone call he had to make.
But when the voice on the other end of the line responded to Lewis, it wasn’t complimentary.
No, it was good old-fashioned trash talk coming from a former teammate and a childhood friend.
“As soon as he called me after the game, he said he caught an interception,” Miami receiver Mike Wallace said. “I told him that he dropped two. That’s my brother so I don’t see the good things he does. I only see the bad.”
Lewis, for what it’s worth, knew he wouldn’t get a straight answer from the man he calls a brother and someone he talks with at least five times a week.
“You know you’re always hard on each other because we want each other to be the best,” Lewis said. “I knew he was going to have a comeback, but I watched film on him this week so I tell him he missed some of those balls last week as well.”
Monday night, when the Lewis’ 3-0 Saints host Wallace’s 3-0 Dolphins, chances are there will be more trash talk. When all is done, however, they’ll remain friends as they have been since running summer track together at five years old. They’re two Westbank natives and O.P. Walker graduates who have gone on to great things in this country’s top professional league.
They took different routes to get where they are now, including early in their lives. In fact, the way Wallace remembers it, if not for Lewis, Monday night’s matchup would be impossible.
“Keenan and a couple of other guys, my cousin,” Wallace said when asked who got him involved in football. “Ever since we were younger we always knew I could play, I just never wanted to play. I saw other guys going to college for football so I said, ‘Ok. I guess I’ll go out there.’ ”
Lewis remembers that it came out of necessity, that the Chargers needed help that only Wallace could provide.
"He always was talented, but he kind of didn’t really want to play,” Lewis said. “But I basically forced him to come out there. I saw the talent that he had and we needed it, so he joined us and he’s been successful every since.”
They split after high school, however, Lewis ending up at Oregon State with Wallace plying his trade at Ole Miss.
Out West, Lewis played four years, finishing with 117 tackles, seven interceptions and 37 passes defensed. Wallace, meanwhile, became one Ole Miss’ preferred deep-threat targets and finished three seasons in Oxford, Miss., catching 101 passes for 1,910 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Then they were reunited, both drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third round of the 2009 NFL draft, Wallace going 12 spots ahead of his friend Lewis. For four seasons, they were teammates, once again spending their days together.
Their play with Pittsburgh, however, split them once again. Wallace signed a five-year, $60 million contract with Miami after racking up 4,042 yards and 32 touchdowns with the Steelers. Lewis inked a five-year, $25.5 million deal after recording 89 total tackles and leading the NFL with 29 passes defensed in 2012.
Now they’re set to face each other for the first time ever as opponents. Suddenly, Lewis stopped with the trash talk and spoke honestly about Wallace.
“He’s real good, I feel as though he’s probably one of the best in the league,” Lewis said. “I rate him up there with all the top guys. You look at his numbers. He’s been successful since he’s been in the league. (He’s a) good deep threat.
“They underestimate his route-running and things like that, but I’ve been going against him and working with him. I feel it’s going to be a tough challenge.”
Wallace was complimentary, too, of the cornerback.
“He’s a smart player, crafty,” Wallace said. “He’s long, tall, rangy, aggressive. He’s a physical player. He’s fast and he has really good instincts. You have to be able to get off the ball because he’s quick and he’s strong.”
It’s not necessarily surprising they know so much about each other. The two lived together in Pittsburgh and sat next to each other on Steelers’ road trips.
Then again, both ultimately want to end Monday night on the winning side.
“We’ve been looking forward to this,” Lewis said. “This is a guy who talked the whole summer, trash-talking how he was going to do this and how he was going to do that. So I’m pretty sure he’s heated up right now and I’m heated up. Like I said, I’m not going to try to get too much on the battle; I’m going to try to help my team win.”