The New Orleans Saints were down 10 to 6 to the Indianapolis Colts coming out of halftime in Super Bowl XLIV. Sean Payton was ready to call the Saints "Ambush" play. Ambush was the code name for the Saints onside kick play that New Orleans was about to set into motion. The winds of Sun Life Stadium in Miami offered a slight breeze and the stage was set. The Saints rookie kicker Thomas Morstead had the fate of the New Orleans Saints hope resting on his shoulders.
In a moment that would have most gasping for air, Morstead's cool and calm demeanor rivaled that of "Joe Willie" Namath's. Morstead nailed the onside kick with a perfection few have seen. NFL and Saints fans alike will never forget where they were when Thomas Morstead hit that onside kick as it bounced with perfection into history. Morstead was a rookie that season and instantly became a legend in New Orleans Saints football lore. Since then Morstead has become one of the league's top punters and kick off specialist.
The 2013 Pro Bowl is only a few weeks away. This year's Pro Bowl will have some familiar names as well as new names on the roster. One of those new names will be Morstead's. He led the league with an 50.1 yards per punt average for the season. That puts Morstead in 6th place all time for the single season average for yards per punt. We were able to catch up with Thomas Morstead before he got on the plane to head towards Hawaii with his friends and family.
Canal Street Chronicles: You were able to beat the competition this year in making it to the Pro Bowl for the 1st time ever. Now that the season is over, what was one of the first things you did to celebrate your selection?
Thomas Morstead: To be honest with you, I really didn't celebrate at all. The last game was a loss, and the season ended on a bitter note. At least that's the way I perceived it. It's been kind of a bittersweet thing making it to the Pro Bowl, because this is the first year we haven't been to the playoffs, at least since I've been there. It's a kind of a bummer way to end the season, but it's a huge individual accomplishment. Something that I am extremely proud of. I'm sure that I will enjoy my time out in Hawaii with my family.
CSC: In your rookie season, you were part of that magical ride the Saints took all the way to a Super Bowl win. How much more does that mean now that you have three more seasons under your belt?
TM: Well, it was special, and the guys on that team were a special group I'll never forget. I remember thinking to myself as it was happening, "I don't know how good I really have it. I can't really appreciate it like I should." I think what these past three seasons have made me realize is how hard it is to make it to the Super Bowl. It makes you realize how difficult it really is to win in this league.
CSC: What's your game-day routine like now that you're a veteran?
TM: I eat the same breakfast if it's a noon game. If it's a night game, I'll eat the same lunch. Kicking and punting is an individual deal. You're not hugely dependent on anyone else really to do the job I'm doing. It's kind of like golf in how are in your own little world. The name of the game is consistency, and the way to be consistent is by doing the same thing over and over. I am just focused on trying to hone everything. I try to focus on the meaning behind everything I'm doing and not just go through the motions. You can watch Drew Brees in practice and see what I'm talking about...emotion. Everything he does has a purpose and you can see that. You know, I'm trying to my best to hone in on it, making it more than just me doing my job.
CSC: What has been the biggest difference in your mind between the NFL and college ball?
TM: I always thought I was focused in college, and I was. But you don't realize the sort of pressures that are on you until it becomes your job and this is the way you're going to make money supporting your family. I remember my first practice like it was yesterday. It was nerve-racking to say the least, just the pressure you feel day-to-day to perform. After a while the nerves wore off, but you're still being evaluated every day. I say that's the biggest difference. It's the day-to-day energy and focus you have to bring with you.
CSC: You have seen the failed attempts to ice kickers in games and most recently the playoffs. Although you're a punter and a kick specialist right now, you were a field goal kicker at SMU. Did that strategy ever work on you?
TM: I always liked it. I always saw it as a personal challenge from the opposing coach to me, so I loved getting iced as a kicker. I just think it's a silly thing if the coach does it at the last split second. It gives the kicker a practice swing. To me, why would the opposing coach want to give the kicker a free swing?
CSC: If you had the opportunity to become a field goal kicker in the NFL, would you?
TM: If the team needed me to do it, I would. I'll tell you this...if I was the Saints' field goal kicker, Who Dat Nation would be a lot less fond of me.
CSC: What do you mean?
TM: I think you need to make 80% of your kicks to be surviving in this league year in and out to make it as a field goal kicker. My career at SMU I made 70%. That doesn't seem like a huge difference, but it is. I missed an extra one of every ten kicks. That doesn't seem like alot, but it is. I'd be good for maybe a last second kick field goal from 60 something maybe. I can always kick it far enough, just not always straight, ya know.
CSC: Frank Gansz your Special Teams coach at SMU was once called "the best special teams coach ever" by former NFL head coach Dick Vermeil. What is one of the things that he taught you that wasn't just about football but life that always stands out to you?
TM: Well a lot actually. I still think about him everyday. He passed the day after I got drafted. I stay in touch with his wife, Barbara, and his son, Frank Gansz Jr, who is now the special teams coach at SMU. So I stay real close in touch with that family. Frank's philosophies with football weren't just about football, but about everyday life. They were about being consistent day in and day out. People always ask me what he taught me about punting. He really didn't teach a lot about punting, but more about being a professional. He taught me about having the right mindset every day. He used to always say, "Don't just try to make the team. Try to make the team better."
CSC: You have seen the city of New Orleans claw their way back to life since your rookie year. What do you think makes them so special in your opinion?
TM: I'd like to think our team embodies the personality of the city, which is "Never give up. We're gonna keep fighting to the end." And there is an unconditional love of the team. I feel like our team has an unconditional love like that between each other. The team understands and appreciates the type of fans we have. They are the best in the NFL. I think the team also understands what we mean to the city. It's a great symbiotic relationship. The best in the NFL.
CSC: Every single person who has become successful always has that one moment where they can look back and say, "That was the moment I broke through." What moment was that for you?
TM: That was my third semester at SMU. I was a tryout player for two years, and we had a bye week with three weeks left in the season. The kicker and punter were both seniors, so I knew next Spring we'd be deciding who would be making it as punter and kicker. There was a bunch of guys ahead of me on the depth charts, so I knew we'd get some reps in practice because it was the bye week. None of the coaches knew who I was so I went up to the defensive coordinator and asked him why they didn't let me kick in practice. He said, "Why should we?" I told him I was the best punter they had. So I took the ball and drop kicked it through the upright from about 40 yards or so. He thought it was pretty cool, and I asked him if he was a betting man. I challenged him a little bit and said, "If I hit this next drop kick, you have to let me kick today at practice." He agreed to it, but he wanted me to kick if from the Mustang which is on the 50 yard line. That made it a 60 yard field goal. I took the bet and made it. They put me in that day as a field goal kicker, and I went 3 for 3. They also let me punt that day, and I did really well. Three weeks later, I was the punter with a scholarship. I remained the punter until I left.
CSC: The New Orleans Saints have had a less than desirable run this past season. In your opinion with Sean Payton coming back, what is the biggest difference that you think he brings with him?
TM: Well, I don't know if you can put a finger on it. It's not just one thing. He just has a demeanor that the team really has taken to. Typical teams embody the character of their coach. Coach Payton is a competitor and with limitless confidence or swagger about what he's doing. He's also super aggressive. That is a great personality of a team to have. If you're around that attitude every day, you start becoming that as a unit.
CSC: In four short years, you have won a Super Bowl that wouldn't have happened without your play, become a Pro Bowler and one of the best at your position in the the league. What is left for you to accomplish?
TM: A lot actually. Number one, it's not a a good feeling unless you win the Super again. I want to do that again and will never stop trying to do that. Number two, we were real close to breaking the net punt average record for a season this year. That will be in my sights next year. Also as far as kickoff goes, I think I can get better. We broke the record for touch-backs last year for kickoffs. Just a lot of personal goals and things I want to accomplish. I just want to be more consistent and better at what I do.
CSC: You have played against a number of teams now. Is there a player that you always wanted to meet or be on the field with at the same time?
TM: Yes, Brett Favre. When the Oilers left town and me growing up in Houston, my favorite player was Brett Favre. When we played against him in my rookie in the NFC Championship, I thought that pretty cool. I wore his shirt to my second grade class. I think I still have that t-shirt at my parents' house in a closet.
CSC: When you're punting, who do you hate seeing returning the ball?
TM: I have to tell you the NFL is scary. Usually the guy returning the punts is the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd best athlete on the team. It's hard for me to really narrow it down. DeSean Jackson to me is a scary dude as well as Roscoe Parrish. He (Parrish) may be older but he's still scary.
CSC: It's an easy Friday night at your house, dinner is on the table and you can invite anyone you want over. They can be from the past or present, alive or dead, and famous or every day. Who would you invite and why?
TM: My grandmother who passed away when I was 3. I'd like to get to talk to her.
CSC: If you weren't an NFL kicker what would you be doing?
TM: I graduated from SMU with a Mechanical Engineering degree so probably something in that field.
CSC: Do you have any plans for the Super Bowl? I know the Saints aren't playing in it , but it will be in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
TM: Yes, actually I am holding a raffle right now that will end at 1:00 PM EST on Friday, January 25, 2013.*
CSC: What are you raffling off?
TM: I teamed up with Celebrities for Charity to give away 2 tickets to Super Bowl XLVII, round-trip airfare for 2, 4 nights in a very nice hotel in downtown New Orleans and 500$ towards trip expenses. You can buy raffle tickets here. Thomas Morstead’s Big Game in NOLA Raffle. All proceeds will go to the Thomas Morstead Family Foundation at the Greater New Orleans Foundation.**
CSC: You plan on doing some surfing in Hawaii when you go?
TM: No, it’s surf season, and those waves are gonna be huge. I play on sightseeing, hiking and a few other things.
CSC: Thank you for you time Thomas and congratulations again on your Pro Bowl selection. We look forward to seeing many great things from you on and off the field in the future.
TM: Thank you and I appreciate you having me.
*At the time of the interview Morstead was about to board a plane to go to Hawaii. The raffle hadn't ended.
** Drawn January 25, 2013 - John Santjer, Riverview, FL USA