Way back in 2009, the Saints drafted a punter out of SMU with the 164th pick in the 5th Round. The 6-foot-4, 235 pound native of Houston, Texas had no idea that he was about to play for the future Super Bowl Champions.
Thomas Morstead’s legend began on the greatest of stages. In Super Bowl XLIV, the Saints offense got off to a slow start. Trailing Peyton Manning’s Colts 10-6, the Saints’ place kicker Garrett Hartley had boomed two 40 plus yard field goals to keep the game close going into halftime.
As the English band The Who jumped into the epic song "Teenage Wasteland" during the halftime show, head coach Sean Payton uttered one phrase, "Ambush." Only then did Morstead know for sure if he was actually going to attempt the on-side kick special teams coaches Greg McMahon and Mike Mallory had installed during the week of practice leading up to the big game. While Manning carved up the Saints secondary during the first half, coach Payton knew it was time to bring out the big guns and try to take away a possession from the Colts’ churning offense.
Morstead recognized the gravity of the situation as the Saints were desperate to slow the Colts’ roll. "I wasn’t worried. I was terrified," the punter conceded. The rookie understood that this play with an approximately 68% chance of success could be the difference in a tight game. Displaying not one ounce of hesitation or doubt, Morstead proceeded to execute a near-perfect on-side kick that was finally recovered by Saints safety Chris Reis. The rest, as they say, is history.
But looking at Morstead’s career over the last seven years, it’s easy to see that much like a fine wine, the punter and kickoff specialist has only gotten better while remaining one of the most consistent kickers in the NFL. Recently, Patriots head coach Bill Belichik gushed over Morstead’s performance after joint practices with the Saints had concluded. "Watching [Thomas] Morstead last week, you're not going to see it any better than that if you put the ball in the jugs machine. It's a clinic. It's all been good. It's all been good."
Now that’s high praise coming from arguably the most respected head coach in the league. What Belichik noticed along with many Saints fans is that Morstead is the picture of consistency. During his seven NFL seasons, #6 has finished in the top ten of all punters in gross punting average, net punting average, and number of touchbacks.
In 2011, Morstead finished 2nd in the NFC and 4th in the NFL in gross punting average and 2nd in both the conference and league in net punting average while setting a record with 68 touchbacks on kickoffs. During the Bountygate suspension season of 2012, Morstead finished 1st in the NFC and 2nd in the NFL in gross punting average and 2nd in both conference and league in net punting average. That year, he also made the Pro Bowl. In 2014, Morstead repeated that same amazing performance by again finishing 1st in the NFC and 2nd in the NFL in net punting average.
Throughout his career, Morstead’s stats have been so consistent across the board that I found myself double checking the rankings to make sure I wasn’t making a mistake. While doing so, another stat jumped off the page. Morstead has appeared in all 16 games of every season with the exception of last year when he appeared in 14. Special teams are often taken for granted and his perpetual availability has allowed the Saints to worry about many other aspects of the game during his tenure.
He has been so steady, in fact, that Morstead is now tied for all time franchise starts for a punter. He was also only the 3rd Saint ever to record over 400 punts in his career. Even after recording 410 punts, Morstead’s booming kicks have only been blocked once (2011) and returned for a TD once (2009). In addition, he was only the 2nd Saints player to be named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week twice, both occurring during his rookie year.
Perhaps, these stats are the least important factors in Morstead’s growing legend. In the meantime, he and his wife Lauren have become true stewards for the city of New Orleans by founding the What You Give Will Grow Foundation. Focusing on the fight against childhood cancer, the foundation partners with several other entities including Children’s Hospital, Triumph Over Kid Cancer, St. Baldrick’s Foundation, and OncoLogics.
"The mission of What You Give Will Grow is to improve the lives of those in need through support of local causes and organizations in the New Orleans and Gulf South communities, with a strong focus on children’s charities and cancer initiatives . Through What You Give Will Grow’s efforts in the community, we hope to inspire others to join us in spreading a spirit of giving."
All the amazing philanthropic work Morstead has tackled since entering the league was why he was chosen in 2014 as the Saints nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. 100% of the profits from his clothing line Sprout 6 go straight back into the community and he also paired with Tipitina’s Foundation to donate 24 instruments to the music program at James M. Singleton Charter School.
Morstead has given New Orleans much more than a steady presence on special teams. Clearly, the legend is still growing…