Hopefully by now you’ve read my feature on new Vikings wide receiver Mike Wallace. (If you haven’t, you better do something about that.) It was a pretty long look at the speedy, fast-talking receiver, but there were a few facts and anecdotes from his childhood that didn’t make it into the story.
— Wallace and his family were affected by Hurricane Katrina a decade ago. Mike’s father, also named Mike, took the five children to Texas while his mother, Sonjia, stayed behind in Louisiana, a couple hours from their New Orleans home. When she returned to the house two months later, she first thought the house had avoided minor damage. “I open the door, I thought, ‘This looks pretty good. Nothing happened,’” she recalled. Then she walked into the addition in back of the house. “I looked up and the whole roof was open,” she said. “You walk into your bedroom and you see the sky.” The insurance company gave the Wallaces a sizable chunk of change, but an out-of-state contractor scammed her. He said his grandmother died and would be back. “I found out later that it was a bunch of baloney,” Sonjia said. He took the money and never returned to finish the work. Plus, the roof leaked the next time a heavy storm rolled through New Orleans.
— Wallace developed asthma around the age of nine. He would often have trouble catching his breath, but by the time his mother drove him to the emergency room, he’d be fine. After several trips, a doctor finally heard Mike’s wheezing and diagnosed him with asthma. Even today, Wallace has to keep an inhaler on the sideline in the event he has an asthma attack.
— Where did Wallace get his trademark speed from? No one is really sure. His mother said she ran track in high school but was nothing exceptional. Mike isn’t sure where it came from either, but he used to beat his friends in races all the time. When he started to take football seriously late in high school, he would go out on to the street at night and sprint to the levy and back as fast as he could. “There and back, there and back every night,” he said. “That’s when I realized, ‘Man, I’m getting to this corner pretty fast.’”
— Wallace wasn’t permitted to play football after a freak eye injury when he was about eight. Sonjia was at home when Mike’s coach showed up at the house, carrying him to the front door. Naturally, she was upset, frantically trying to figure out what had happened. Another player had accidentally caught Mike in the eye with a cleat and they feared he would lose vision in that eye. He ended up being fine. “At that point, I didn’t want him to play anymore. I mean, you only get two eyes,” she said. “It took a while but I let him go back to playing because he really wanted to play.”
— Wallace has supported his mother since joining the NFL. When he was in college, she had a job with the state working with mentally-handicapped people, but she got laid off right around the time he was drafted by the Steelers. “He said, ‘Ma, don’t worry about it. It’s going to be alright,’” Sonjia said. Wallace paid her bills and bought her a house. And when he signed his $60 million deal with the Dolphins, he told his mom that he didn’t want her to work another day the rest of her life. “He has a big heart,” she said.