Arizona’s Mathieu goes home in redemption, triumph
The Honey Badger is going home in a mixture of triumph and
Two games into his pro career, Tyrann Mathieu already has proven
he can play in the NFL. Now he heads to New Orleans, where his
Arizona Cardinals face the Saints on Sunday.
The diminutive, dynamic defensive back says he wants to change
the minds of those in his hometown who wrote him off as a failure
after he was kicked out of LSU and spent a year out of
”Obviously, I have a chance in front of my hometown but I also
have a chance to get everybody back on my side,” he said, ”those
same people when those negative things happened said all those
negative things about me.”
Mathieu grew up in New Orleans and was a star football player at
St. Augustine High School before taking his energy and skill to
At 5-foot-9, Mathieu was no sure thing coming out of high
”Early on, he was kind of laughed at, being too small,” said
Tulane assistant David Johnson, Mathieu’s coach in high school. ”I
told people he was the best player I’ve ever seen and he’s going to
make plays if you just put him in position to do those things. So
now you see him make plays in the NFL and you kind of sit back and
smile and think, `I told you so.”’
After a standout 2011 season at LSU, he was a Heisman Trophy
But trouble loomed.
He was booted from the LSU team for failed drug tests, then his
image and presumably his NFL future took another hit a few weeks
later when he and three former teammates were arrested on marijuana
charges after police officers found 10 bags of pot and drug
paraphernalia in his Baton Rouge apartment.
He spent all of 2012 out of football.
The Cardinals, though, took a chance on him, selecting him in
the third round.
It helped that Arizona had Mathieu’s longtime friend and former
LSU teammate in budding superstar cornerback Patrick Peterson. The
Cardinals counted on Peterson to guide Mathieu in the right
”We’re practically brothers,” Peterson said. ”I feel that I’m
the big brother role model type for him. I’m definitely not taking
that duty lightly. Tyrann looks up to me, and I want to make sure
that I’m doing everything right on my part to make sure that he is
following the right footsteps and make sure that he does everything
the right way.”
Coach Bruce Arians said there won’t be much chance for Mathieu
to get in trouble this weekend.
”With all the LSU guys and Louisiana guys, it’s always exciting
going home,” Arians said. ”For him, it’s extremely, I think,
exciting, because he gets to play a football game. I know we’ve
talked to him about distractions, and he’s basically going to play
the football game and wave to everybody after the game.”
Then it’s on the team bus for the airport, where the team will
fly to Florida. Rather than come back to Arizona, the Cardinals
will practice next week in Bradenton in preparation for that
weekend’s game against Tampa Bay.
When he came to the Cardinals, Mathieu said he wanted to leave
Honey Badger behind because it recalled those bad days. But it’s
just too good and too fitting a nickname, and now he just accepts
it. He even tweeted this week that the people at his bank call him
They certainly know him in New Orleans.
”The Honey Badger, are you kidding me?” Saints quarterback
Drew Brees said. ”That was all anybody wanted to talk about around
here. He was as exciting a college player as there was, so I’m very
familiar with him and his abilities.”
Those abilities were on display in the Cardinals’ opener, when
he raced from nowhere to knock the ball out of the grasp of St.
Louis’ Jared Cook just before the Rams tight end crossed the goal
line. In last week’s 25-21 victory over Detroit, Mathieu tackled
Nate Burleson on fourth down a yard shy of the first down on the
Lions’ final play.
”He’s someone obviously that has great instincts, just the
hustle play he makes on the strip-fumble earlier in the year,”
Saints coach Sean Payton said. ”He’s someone who has a good feel
for the game. He’s got good football IQ, you can see that on tape.
He also has good ball skills, so that’s something that’s stood out
in two games.”
Mathieu said he takes inspiration for his comeback from the
comeback of his hometown in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
”Being from New Orleans, you have a certain type of spirit
about you,” he said. ”You’re happy-go-lucky, a certain type of
culture it provided me with. It just taught me to never give
Mathieu is relishing his return to football as he goes back
”For me it’s a huge accomplishment, a huge achievement,” he
said. ”I’ve grown up watching the Saints play on the local
channels my entire life. To finally go out there and have an
opportunity to play against those guys, I’m extremely
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AP sports writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this