Friday, October 16, 2015

Michael Mauti's blocked punt 'special moment' with Steve Gleason in attendance

When Steve Gleason blocked the punt against Atlanta to re-open the Mercedes-Benz Superdome after Hurricane Katrina in September 2006, Michael Mauti was playing for coach Guy LeCompte at Mandeville High School. Little did he know he'd perform a little Throwback Thursday flashback nine years later in another win over the Saints' rival, this one 31-21, as Gleason watched from field level.

With the New Orleans Saints leading 7-0 late in the first quarter, Mauti ran through the Falcons' line on fourth down, slammed a Matt Bosher punt attempt to the turf and rumbled in 4 yards for a touchdown to send the crowd into an uncontrollable tizzy.

"That's just one of those plays that doesn't come around often," said Mauti, whose father, Rich, was a wide receiver and punt returner for the Saints from 1977-83. "I hit the ground, looked and the ball was right there. All of a sudden, I picked it up and just started running with it."

Although the play didn't have near the significance of Gleason's a decade ago, if the Saints are able to come back and make something out of this season, it could be the play the team looks back on as the kick-start it needed.

"Obviously that was a huge play in the game," Drew Brees said. "It gave us a two-possession lead and the whole stadium erupts. And it was great that Steve was here to see that."

The Saints claimed Mauti off waivers from the Minnesota Vikings just before the start of the regular season, and he instantly became a special teams catalyst. Coach Sean Payton said he likes the energy Mauti brings to the team and he doesn't make many mental mistakes.

"He's tough, he's smart and he knows what to do," Payton said. "I think you know exactly what you're getting in our league, and that's a pretty important trait in our league."

Before the game, Gleason, who was diagnosed with ALS a few years ago, received the George Halas Award he won in June, and the crowd began to roll with that tribute and Brees leading the opening Who Dat chant.

As the game ended, Mauti began to reflect on the significance of Gleason being in the Dome on Thursday and what the play meant to him. He also was looking forward to seeing his dad and sharing the moment with him, and maybe to tongue-in-cheek remind him that he's halfway to Rich's total of two career touchdowns.

"That was probably the most electric sports venue I have ever been at," Mauti said about being in the Superdome nine years ago for Gleason's block. "I get goose bumps when I think about it, just a numbing sound. I have always looked up to Steve Gleason; he's a hero of mine. It's so special that he got to be here, and I grew up wanting to be like him.

"(Michael and Rich) going fishing this weekend; I might lose it here when I see him. This is just so special. This is my first touchdown in the NFL, and it has been a while since I have been in the end zone. ...

"This has always been a dream of mine, playing in the NFL anywhere, but if you would have asked me three months ago I wouldn't have told you I'd be here. You never know how the story is going to play out. You just keep working and see what happens."

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