Mathieu’s honey of a thank you
It’s appears that the Honey Badger is all grown up now.
A lot his fans always suspected that might happen.
You remember Tyrann Mathieu, of course, from his LSU days.
I remember LSU’s Media Day in August of 2012, when in the middle of a throng I managed a mere twoon-one interview with him.
A day or two earlier Mathieu had taken to Twitter to taunt the “haters” out there who evidently “doubted” him.
It’s certainly not an unusual ploy for headstrong young athletes getting their first taste of fame. Mostly it’s a harmless way of creating obstacles to overcome whether they exist or not. But I had to ask him anyway.
Who, exactly, were these “haters” lurking out there? I told him I’d been snooping around the LSU program since before he was born and I couldn’t remember many Tiger athletes more universally loved and fawned over than the Honey Badger.
He’d been a Heisman finalist the season before. It may or may not have been the greatest single individual season a Tigers defensive player ever had, but no question it was the most disruptive.
He was that “mayhem” commercial come to life on the field. It was uncanny the way whenever there was mayhem by the LSU defense, you could just about bet that the Honey Badger was at the bottom of the mischief, usually gnawing on another turnover.
It was all the more fun to watch because he always seemed to be the smallest guy on the field, not to mention that, even if the pest himself seemed to have mixed feelings about it, “Honey Badger” might have been the most perfect nickname in sports.
Anyway, that media day Mathieu didn’t really answer the question, but did smile sheepishly and sort of admit that most LSU fans seemed pretty fond of him.
What I really noticed, though, was that one of LSU’s “media coaches” — whose jobs seems to be to keep athletes from saying anything useful — was lurking nearby and, hearing the question, backed in closer with a sideways ear casually perking up to the interview.
Other players weren’t getting that personal supervision. It was like LSU didn’t trust its Honey Badger. A few days later, it made more sense.
A near-tearful head coach, Les Miles, called another news conference to announce he was kicking him off the team.
Nothing too criminal — the dreaded “violation of team rules,” which was later widely reported as one too many positive tests for the illicit weed.
College kids have done worse.
He never seemed like a bad guy, maybe a little overwhelmed by the attention, perhaps a tad immature.
After his dismissal, he made a trip to Lake Charles to meet with then-McNeese State coach Matt Viator. Viator found a confused and mixed up kid and advised him to think about it a little longer before running away from Baton Rouge.
It worked out. He sat out the 2012 season but was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in 2013 and has been a star in the NFL ever since.
Best of all, he’s all grown up now.
If you want to read all about it, check out the Honey Badger’s heartfelt good-bye letter to the fans of the Arizona Cardinals, who’d embraced him to the point that his No. 32 jersey was the top seller in the Phoenix area.
You’ll find it on the website “theplayerstribune.com”
He doesn’t explain why he’s leaving, why he forced the Cardinals’ hand and the team cut him when he refused to take a pay cut.
News flash: the NFL is, at heart, a business on both sides. Nothing personal.
But there’s a classy way to do it, and Mathieu certainly upheld his end of that bargain in burning no bridges on the way out.
He finds it fitting that he will now end up with the Houston Texans, in the city where, at the age of 13, he and his family landed for a spell after Hurricane Katrina demolished their life in New Orleans.
But first he had to thank the people of Arizona and some former teammates.
It was always assumed that another former Tiger, Patrick Peterson, was a stabilizing influence on Mathieu’s growth as a person with the Cardinals.
And he was, duly noted by Mathieu, who said it was a “dream” to play next to his idol from LSU.
But Mathieu also had some love for a former Alabama player, veteran safety Rashad Johnson.
He describes Johnson as a player “who understood this (football) business deeply. He definitely understood it well enough to know that when I was drafted, it was probably so that I could take his job.”
“He had every reason not to (help), but Rashad went out of his way to teach me everything he could to make me better … He was a good person to me, not because he wanted anything, but just because it was the right thing to do.
“That really left a mark on me.”
Mostly Mathieu thanked the people of Arizona.
It was the right thing to do.