Michael Mauti, the former Vikings late-round draft pick in 2013, blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown Thursday night to help his hometown team, the New Orleans Saints – the team his father, Rich, once played for – beat division rival Atlanta on Thursday Night Football.
Mauti grew up in Louisiana. Hurricane Katrina struck when he was a sophomore in high school.
Although his family's home wasn't devastated like so many others in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, the deadly hurricane left a lasting impression on him.
"That's one thing I'll never forget -- with the choppers flying over and refueling, all the National Guard trucks," Mauti told ESPN last year on the tenth anniversary of the storm. "It was like a nuclear bomb went off."
The Saints' first game back in their home stadium after Katrina had a defining moment within the first 90 seconds of a game against Atlanta. Steve Gleason, who now battles through daily living with ALS, blocked a punt and the Saints recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown.
Gleason was in attendance Thursday night to see Mauti's play, just like Mauti was at the game in 2006.
"That was probably the most electric sports venue I have ever been at," said Mauti, remembering Gleason's play nine years ago, according to The Times-Picayune. "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."
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Mauti, like he was with the Vikings, is a backup linebacker and special teams contributor. But star power isn't always need to produce a stunning moment in sports – and Mauti did just that on national television Thursday night.