The Morstead Affair

Thomas Morstead
New Orleans Saints punter Thomas Morstead (6) on the sideline during a week 17 NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018 in New Orleans. Carolina won 33-14. (Aaron M. Sprecher via AP)

 

Pro sports can suck sometimes. Actually, a lot of times. And it’s always for the same reason. Money. “It’s just a business,” we fans are told. Don’t get emotionally attached.

Sometimes it’s a greedy player that sets things awry. More often, it’s greedy owners and general managers who say: Fans be damned. We can shave off a few nickels if we do this.

Consider the beloved NFL legends let go by the franchises with whom their careers are still inextricably tied. The Colts let Peyton Manning go to Denver. The 49ers let Joe Montana go to the Chiefs. And, in what had to be nothing short of psychically traumatic for the folks of Green Bay, the Packers let Brett Favre go to Minnesota.

There are many more stories like this, each of them personal to their loyal hometown fans who keep suckering up their money for season tickets because they love their team. And its players.

Which brings us to the Thomas Morstead affair. He’s been the the Saints punter, holder and sometimes kick-off specialist for the last 12 years. He’s the only player on the team, other than Drew Brees, to play continuously for the Saints since their 2009 Super Bowl win.

That was Morstead’s rookie season. And he was tasked with what turned out to be the second most iconic play in team history. Obviously, number one is Steve Gleason’s blocked punt. And then there was “The Ambush.”

Morstead, once again worth repeating – a rookie – was called out in the locker room during halftime of that 2009 Super Bowl and tasked with one of the boldest plays in NFL history. He was to start the second half with an onside kick. Who the hell does that? Well, coach Sean Payton does that.

Props to Payton for the gonads to make such a call. Credit Morstead with pulling it off. We recovered the kick, drove down the field, scored a touchdown and sealed the deal.

Legend has it that Morstead spent the entire time of that extended half time – y’know, rock stars preening and fireworks hailing like the Star-Spangled Banner – sitting at his locker with his head in his hands, freaking out.

But he did it. And that was the start of New Orleans love affair with Thomas Morstead, who turned out to be not just a great onside kicker, but the most prolific punter in team history and – if I have my numbers right – never had a punt blocked and never once muffed a hold for a place kicker during a field goal or extra point.

But that’s not all Morstead was – or is. He is one of the great humans. One of OUR great humans. His contributions to New Orleans are unquantifiable. Any cause, any case, any charity, Thomas Morstead was on the scene.

Morstead’s off-field accomplishments trump anything he did on the gridiron. A relentless civic and community leader, he raised money, gave his time and recruited others to do the same and has established himself as one of the great citizens among us.

Hell, he even convinced me one time to shave my head so the hair could be used to make wigs for cancer kids. (Pity the kid that got those locks.)

And now comes the cautionary tale.

The Saints let Morstead go last week, a victim of, yup, the salary cap. The most prolific and decorated punter in team – and possibly league – history, with a meager (by NFL standards) $2.5 million salary, be gone. Later, gator. Take your charities and your iron leg somewhere else.

He played 205 games for the Saints, second only to Brees in team history. He missed all of two games with injuries, a claim Brees cannot make. And, sorry if this sounds a little weird, but he had beautiful hair. Which he cut off every spring to make a wig for a suffering kid in who knows where.

The reaction among fans has been, shall we say, less than graceful. Everyone is pissed. Morstead had an off-season last year, playing injured the whole time, coming up short on some kicks. But he’s still got game and the sorry tale is that he will play that game in a jersey that’s not black and gold next season. The Saints will get a bargain basement punter in the process. And that sucks.

Which leads to cautionary tale # 2.

Remember Morten Andersen? The Great Dane. He is one of only two kickers to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

Andersen holds the Saints record to this day for field goals and points scored. But the team let him go after the 1994 season for – you guessed it: salary cap. He signed with the Falcons and the following season became the only player in NFL history to hit three field goals from beyond 50 yards in a single game.

Against the Saints.

Karma sucks.

And so, where Morstead, who is only 35 – Andersen played for 25 seasons – goes now is anybody’s guess. But any city, town or team that gets him will be for the better. On the field, and off the field.

I love the Saints dearly, but I hope if he plays against us, he pulls off a fake punt and throws a touchdown pass, and then makes an onside kick to seal the deal.

Ambush that.

 

 

 

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