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Meet The Budweiser Truck Driver Who Became an NFL All-Pro

Vince Papale caught one NFL pass. Rudy Ruettiger played one college snap. Michael Lewis played 7 seasons in the NFL.

An illustration of Michael Lewis (aka "Beer Man") running with the football on a kick return in both his white and black New Orleans Saints uniforms
Credit-NFL/AP/Joker Mag

This couldn’t be happening.

The words didn’t feel real.

“We’re going to release you.”

He was so close. And now his dream was over.

Or so he thought.

Michael Lewis was born in New Orleans.

Like most kids his age, he grew up rooting for his hometown Saints. And he always dreamed of playing pro football.

But he only played for one season in high school.

After becoming a father during his senior year, he chose to focus on supporting his newborn child rather than continue pursuing football or going to college.

Instead, he got a job as a Budweiser delivery driver, where he worked 12-hour shifts delivering kegs of beer to bars and house parties.

His truck route was only half a mile from the Saints’ Superdome.

He saw the stadium every time he clocked in and out.

Close in proximity, but far in reality from the dream he always had.

“I never really gave up on football after I got out of high school,” Lewis said. “The love was always there.”

He used every ounce of free time to play for local semi-pro teams.

But those leagues didn’t pay the bills, so he took several breaks from the grind and played flag football to stay in shape.

Michael Lewis wasn’t your average truck driver moonlighting as an amateur football player.

Despite his limited experience, lack of formal training, and small frame, he dominated every time he touched the ball.

What he lacked in size he made up for in speed.

4.3 speed, to be exact.

One day he heard that the Louisiana Bayou Beast – a new upstart team in the Professional Indoor Football League – was looking for players.

By that point, he was 26 years old – eight years removed from high school.

But he decided to go for it.

“I thought it sounded like it would be fun,” he said.

Michael "Beer Man" Lewis wearing his NFL Pro Bowl jersey and Saints Super Bowl ring next to a quote from him that reads: "I never really gave up on football after I got out of high school. The love was always there."

Lewis didn’t just make the team. He became one of the best players in the entire league.

In their first game, the Bayou Beast won by a score of 36–28 in front of a crowd of just 4,283 people.

It may have been a small stage, but Lewis made the most of it.

He was named to the 1998 PIFL All-Star First-team, helping lead the Bayou Beast to a 13-1 record and a league championship title.

Between playing games, practicing, and working long shifts delivering beer, Lewis sent his highlight tape to every team he could find.

After two years in the PIFL – where he scored 23 touchdowns in 24 games – he got what he was looking for.

A promotion to the Arena Football League with the New Jersey Red Dogs.

His salary increased from $200 to $900 per game.

It wasn’t enough to give up his day job while supporting a family, but it was progress.

After amassing impressive stats there, and being named to the 2000 AFL All-Rookie Team, he got a call that changed everything.

An offer to try out for the Philadelphia Eagles.

It was a remarkable ascension. Semi-pro, flag football, indoor leagues, and now an NFL tryout.

He joined the Eagles on July 15th, 2000, and played in his first preseason game.

37 days later, they cut him.

Most guys would’ve crumbled after hearing that news. But not Michael Lewis.

On the drive home, he called his friend and expressed his gratitude for the opportunity.

“If I don’t play another game, I lived my dream,” he said at the time.

“I played the one NFL game, I’m satisfied.”

It could’ve ended right then and there.

While the 2000 NFL season was kicking off, Lewis was back home driving his delivery truck.

The dream was all but over.

But fate had other plans.

Word of Michael Lewis started to spread. And eventually, it caught the ear of Saints GM Randy Mueller.

He heard about Lewis’ accomplishments in indoor football and his tryout with the Eagles and decided to take a chance.

In November of 2000, at the tail end of the regular season, the New Orleans Saints signed Michael Lewis to their practice squad.

“It was like heaven to me, cause now I’m like ‘you know what, I’m on the practice squad but I’m playing with my home team’…I was real happy.”

That spring, the Saints sent him overseas to play for their NFL Europe affiliate, the Rhine Fire.

With the Fire, he averaged 20.56 yards per kick return and put up 262 yards as a wide receiver.

When he returned to the U.S. for Saints training camp, he refused to let this second chance go to waste.

“I just wanted to give myself an opportunity to see if I could make it,” Lewis said.

“I didn’t want to sell myself short. I think I’m hungrier than some other guys because of the route I took to get here. I didn’t want to ask myself later in life, ‘What if I had tried?'”

During one open practice, a woman in the stands pointed to Lewis and asked, “Who’s that little player? He looks like a kid.”

At 5’8″ and 175 pounds, he was the smallest player in training camp. But it didn’t deter him.

“Teams put a lot of emphasis on size, but I don’t let that get to me,” Lewis said then.

“If you’re not big, you have to use your speed to your advantage – especially on special teams. At my size, it’s hard for the other guy to get his hands on me. And I can use my speed to get around him and up the field.”

And that’s exactly what he did.

Michael Lewis pictured returning a kick for the New Orleans Saints next to his quote that reads: "Everybody looks at me like a regular guy because I had a 9-5 and didn't go to college. It was like, 'This guy was one of us. He worked every single day. He drove a beer truck.'"

In the 2001 preseason, Michael Lewis averaged 28.5 yards per kick return while showcasing his blazing 4.3 speed.

“He’s certainly not just another training camp guy,” said receivers coach Hubbard Alexander.

Seizing the opportunity, Lewis made the final 53-man roster as a return specialist.

His first payday was $20,000 – a long way from his hourly wage as a truck driver.

Michael Lewis entered the NFL as a 29-year-old – a solid eight years older than many of his fellow rookies.

But like all things, he didn’t see it the way most people would.

“My age doesn’t matter,” he told the New York Times.

“By not playing four years of high school and four years of college, I’m not beat up like most other guys. I haven’t taken all those hits.”

After playing 8 games as a rookie, Michael Lewis became a star in 2002.

In his age-31 season, he set an NFL record for combined kick-punt return yardage with 2,432 yards total, leading the league in punt return yards, kick return yards, and all-purpose yards.

He was a Pro Bowler, first-team All-Pro, and Special Teams Player of the Year.

The following season, he won the Saints’ Man of the Year award for his active involvement in the community.

“I’m a long shot but I feel like I’m supposed to be here. I’m not a fly-by-night story,” Lewis told Nola.com.

“I don’t just want to be in the league a few years and then just fade away. I wanted to leave my mark. That’s why I worked so hard to put in the extra hours of work because I wanted to leave a mark behind me when I got there.”

Rudy Ruettiger played one college snap. Vince Papale caught one NFL pass.

Michael Lewis played seven years in the NFL.

Known among Saints fans as “Beer Man”, Lewis went from delivering kegs to becoming a hometown hero.

“Everybody looks at me like a regular guy because I had a 9-5 and didn’t go to college. It was like, ‘This guy was one of us. He worked every single day. He drove a beer truck.'”

“That’s what keeps me grounded and in touch with the fans, because they know that I knew what it was like to get up every morning and punch in a time clock.”

During the early 2000s, “Beer Man” ranked among the NFL’s most dangerous return specialists.

After a seven-year career, Michael Lewis still holds the Saints’ all-time record for punt return yardage (1,482 yards) and was inducted into the franchise’s Hall of Fame in 2015.

After retirement, he took a role as a team ambassador and received a Super Bowl ring after the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV.

“Everything I have done has been totally different than what everyone else has done,” Lewis said.

“I sometimes can’t believe it all worked out.”

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Written By

Division III baseball alum (McDaniel College) and founder of Joker Mag. Sharing underdog stories to inspire the next generation.

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