“Before the play, when we ran it in practice, John Carney would always tell me to kick it at 10% because it’s just such a short kick. In the game, right before I went on the field, he grabbed me and said, ‘You need to kick this at 1%’, because I was so amped. It was just such a stressful moment.” Saints punter Thomas Morstead rehashed the moments leading up to the most unlikely play in Super Bowl history, ‘Ambush’. But while Morstead was just a rookie at the time, his work ethic, demeanor and self-awareness prepared him for that moment long before Sean Payton made the call.
Life of a Saint: Thomas Morstead
Fall, 2000: About 15 miles south of Houston, a young Thomas Morstead walked into Pearland High School as a 5’0”, 90-pound freshman. His focus was not football, but rather academics. And like so many other areas of his life, Morstead attacked the books with an intention to be the best. But as those high school years went on, and he got bigger, he decided to give football a shot. “I only played football my senior year of high school. I thought it would be something fun to do”, Morstead stated.
Morstead had an immediate love for the game. He did not assume he’d earn a roster spot but was willing to put in the work if given the opportunity. It was his years in college at Southern Methodist University that really transformed him from someone testing the waters into someone destined for greatness. The combination of receiving an Engineering scholarship along with the opportunity to play football as a walk-on made SMU a great fit for the Texas native. Morstead shared, “When I went to college, my whole goal was just to hopefully play on Saturdays. I hoped to get a chance to play in a game one day. I always put my best into everything I did, and I loved doing all the aspects it took to be good. I loved the workouts and training. Even in my second year of college, I was more committed academically than I was athletically. Once I started to fill out and continue to get better and better in college is whenever I thought I could make a go of it.”
Thomas Morstead was putting in the work. Whether it was working with his coaching staff, studying film or spending time in the weight room. Morstead loved the process. To be the best, however, he sought additional help outside SMU. That help came in the form of the elite kicking coach, Jamie Kohl. Morstead got more than he could have asked from Kohl and his kicking camps.
“He’s the premier kicking coach in the world. I started going to his camp in 2004. I still work with him today. He is my oldest son’s godfather and my best friend. We went on this journey together. We have developed together through each other’s success. To this day, he is somebody that I really want to play well for.” Morstead credits Kohl as the biggest reason he made it to the NFL.
As Morstead continued to develop, it seemed like nothing could derail his road to the NFL. Then, his senior year would offer up the toughest obstacle to date. Morstead shared, “I earned a scholarship in my third semester at SMU. It was a full football scholarship. I had that taken away inside of the first week of the fourth semester because there was a mistake made. I still never quite got an explanation about it. Not having to pay for school and then all of the sudden having to pay for it was difficult on me and my family.” Despite the hardship, Morstead credits this obstacle as the first time he stood up for himself and found his voice.
The off-season leading up to the 2009 draft had gone well for Morstead. Despite the infrequency of punters being drafted, he and his agent had good reason to believe that Morstead would be a rare exception. Morstead recalled, “It was nerve wracking. I was waiting all day. That was back when the draft was just two days. I had to sit through the third, the fourth and most of the fifth rounds. My agent at the time had told me that he thought I would be drafted in either the fourth or fifth round by either the Colts or the Saints. Once the Saints drafted in the fourth round, they didn’t have another pick until the seventh round. I thought for sure I wasn’t going to go there.”
But then, the Saints made their move to get the punter/kickoff artist and Morstead knew before anyone else. He continued, “Then they (Saints) traded up with the Eagles. It was a great experience. I had some close friends and family with me. So, the Eagles were on the clock and I got this phone call from a 5-0-4 area code. Everybody thought I was going to Philly. They had worked me out privately. It was cool holding on to the secret when I got off the phone, waiting for the trade to come in, waiting for everybody to see it. I’ll never forget my mom screaming. It was six hours down I-10 because we were in Houston. How close it was to home was pretty special.”
Morstead Arrives in New Orleans
It was a new city. It was a new team. The transition could have been tough, but one man went out of his way to try and ease the nerves of his new teammate. “I remember my first experience coming in the locker room, Scott Fujita came over and introduced himself. I just always remember that. He was a tenured vet and a big part of the team. He had been coached by a coach that I had been coached by in college, Frank Gansz Sr. We both had that in common. It was just really special for him to come up to me an introduce himself. I don’t care how ‘big-time’ an athlete you are. When you come into a new locker room, you’re kind of the freshman all over again. There’s some insecurity and you don’t know how things are going to go and what the guys are like”, Morstead said.
Easing into the team and his role was not in the cards for Morstead however. When he was drafted onto the 2009 Saints, he had no way of knowing how quickly his team would gain national attention during a magical run toward a championship in Super Bowl XLIV. Regarding that run, Morstead shared, “It was just a whirlwind. I had my blinders on, trying to do my job and figure out what the heck I was doing. There’s a learning curve sometimes in the NFL, especially for a specialist. I was just trying to do my job and help the team win every week.” He then added, “It’s hard to explain to people what that year was like. Every week, we won. I think my favorite part of that year was the celebrations after every game. It was fun for the team and the people of New Orleans. It was a special year for sure. “
Thomas Morstead had never kicked an on-sides kick during a game; not in high school, or college or the pros. So, the idea of trying it at halftime of the Super Bowl with a rookie in a game the Saints were losing seemed unthinkable. Morstead recalled, “We had said we were going to run it the night before. I really didn’t believe Coach (Sean Payton), honestly. He came in at half time and said we were running it and I had a long, long 30-minute halftime to review the plan and kind of digest it. It was a very stressful time.” Morstead stated that he doesn’t remember the play itself, but continued, “. I’m glad it worked out obviously. It helped us win the game. I’m glad to be a part of such a special moment for the city. And it’s something I always hang my hat on whenever a negative mindset creeps in or a little bit of doubt. You take yourself back to the most stressful moments you’ve been in and you’ve gotten it done. You remember those times and it gives you confidence that you can do it again.”
That play will go down as one of the greatest plays in New Orleans Saints history and one of the gutsiest calls in football history.
Thomas Morstead has enjoyed tremendous success at the highest level of football. He was first-team All-Conference twice in college. He has been to the Pro Bowl, been an All-Pro and a Super Bowl champion in the NFL. But ask Morstead if these awards are what he’d like to be remembered for and you’ll get an easy ‘no’. Morstead explained, “I think the thing I’d like to hang my hat on is being ‘elitely’ consistent. You’re just never going to get a bad game out of me. That’s relative to all the things we do. Whether it’s hang time, direction, punting short, punting long. Sometimes you’re playing against the best returner in the league and you have to change your approach. I’ve always tried to provide an elite level of consistency.”
That consistency has not only earned Morstead a new, 5-year contract but has also kept the minds of the Saints coaching staff at ease for a decade.
While his play on the field has remained consistent throughout his career, the consistency of his mindset has also played a tremendous part in the success of the Saints. When asked how he’s been able to stay level-headed through the highs and lows of football, specifically the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Morstead offered, “That all has to do with the locker room, the guys you’re surrounded by. When things are good, they’re good. But when things go wrong, when there’s a devastating ending, you have to have the right people in the locker room that can digest that, accept it, handle it and move on. That’s really easy to talk about and hard to do. We did that last year after Minnesota. I’m really excited that we kept the core of this team together. We brought back key contributors, especially on special teams. Guys that are the ‘glue guys’ in the locker room. Not everybody could have done what we did last year. The challenge will be even greater this year. I think we’re all looking forward to that. “
Morstead stated that the toughest part of these losses is that the next season brings change to the roster. “It’s that the group of guys that you built a relationship with will not be together again after that. It’s just such an abrupt ending. The next time the team’s all together, guys are gone, guys retire, guys are cut, guys are traded, and you have new guys that come in. That team is no longer. That is really difficult to deal with. That was the hardest part of it.”
What You Give Will Grow
The ‘Minneapolis Miracle’ game that ended the 2017 season will unfortunately be etched in Saints’ fans minds forever. However tough to digest the way that game played out, there was some good that came from it off the field. Vikings fans were so impressed with Morstead and the fact that he played that game through injury that they began flooding his charity, ‘What You Give Will Grow’, with donations. The foundation offers assistance to children battling cancer.
When asked what this gesture from the Minnesota Vikings fans meant to him personally, he said, “Obviously, it was a great opportunity for the foundation. The foundation honestly helped me cope with the way the season ended and it gave me something productive to focus on once the season was over.”
For more information about the foundation, head to www.wygwg.org.
Morstead on Fatherhood
In 2014, Morstead welcomed his first of four children into the world. When asked about how things have changed since then, Morstead jested, “How hasn’t it changed? It’s been wonderful. We never thought we were headed down this road. Having children has been the greatest blessing in my life. It’s also the most challenging thing in my life and the most tiring thing. It’s wonderful. Our family would not operate if it weren't for my wife (Lauren). She’s a wonderful human being. I would say it was a major adjustment when we had our first kid, Maxwell. I was adjusting to not being on my schedule, the way I want to do things all the time. It’s made me a better professional because you have to continue to adjust. Sometimes, you don’t get to do things when you want to do them. You have to adjust to what’s going on around you. It makes you better at what you do. It makes you more efficient. All of that stuff carries over to every other area of your life.”
Morstead’s Position with the Saints
Again, with the 5-year contract signed this off-season, Thomas Morstead will be punting in New Orleans for years to come. Morstead mentioned, “I always knew that punting is where I was gifted. I did miss not kicking field goals when I got to the NFL. I enjoyed that aspect of it. I was not good enough to do that at the professional level. I enjoyed kicking off, too. I kind of miss doing that now. I always found it fun, challenging and exciting. But I’ve always known that punting was my bread and butter.” Despite taking a backseat for kickoff duties to Will Lutz the past three seasons, Morstead remains a lethal and irreplaceable weapon in the Saints special teams attack. Besides, Morstead has already given Saints fans the greatest kickoff in team history.
His 1% kick was 100% legendary.