TEMPE, Ariz. – Waving might be the only way Tyrann Mathieu's friends can get in touch with him this weekend.
The Arizona Cardinals' rookie defensive back changed his phone number earlier in the week, in part to avoid the onslaught of ticket requests he was bound to receive ahead of his return to New Orleans for Sunday's meeting with the Saints, and in part to escape the potential distractions that could come with returning to his roots.
“I don’t have anything negative to be about or to say,” Mathieu said. “I’m going there with a positive mindset. I know a lot of family and friends are going to be excited to see me play in person.”
He returns to the city he grew up in and the city that badgered him during his troubles at Louisiana State. His adopted parents, Tyrone and Sheila Mathieu, are ready. They saw how the city adopted their son when he was flying around Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, helping LSU to the BCS national championship game following the 2011 season.
Then they saw how the city turned on their son when reports of marijuana use emerged and he was subsequently kicked out of LSU.
But Mathieu left that in the past.
He headed West, for a fresh start under the watchful eyes of close friend Patrick Peterson, who shared the secondary with Mathieu at LSU and now in Arizona. The last time Mathieu played in Louisiana, he was on the same field he’ll take Sunday afternoon.
This time, he’ll show how far he’s come. As Arizona coach Bruce Arians put it, Mathieu gets to play football again.
“I have a chance to get everybody on my side,” Mathieu said. “Those same people, when those negative things happened, said all those negative things about me. So, like I said, I’m excited about it. Hopefully it all goes well.”
Peterson believes in Mathieu. It’s not as big of a homecoming for Peterson, because he just went to school in Louisiana; he grew up in Florida. All the same, the Bayou faithful will surely be receptive to one of the greatest defensive backs to attend DBU.
But he knows whom everyone’s there to see.
“It’s a bigger homecoming for Tyrann,” Peterson said. “We’re extremely excited for him.
“I think he’s going to handle it well. He’s had a great week of practice. He got his hands on a lot of balls this week. He’s been breaking us down each and every day. I think he’s excited. I think the team’s excited for him.”
Mathieu, who tried to let the Honey Badger nickname and persona go but couldn’t, returns to the city that introduced him to football. He watched the Saints on local TV every weekend. He evacuated before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, then witnessed his favorite moment in the Superdome after he returned to the Crescent City -- Steve Gleason's blocked punt in the Saints' first post-Katrina game there, more than a year after the disaster.
This is home for Mathieu. He wears the soul of the city on his sleeve. He stands for the very thing New Orleans has come to be known for.
“Being from New Orleans, there’s a certain type of spirit about you,” Mathieu said. “You’re happy-go-lucky. There’s a certain type of culture.
“It just taught me to never give up.”
And give up he never did.