At halftime last night, Saints punter and kickoff specialist Thomas Morstead thought about the words he once heard from Frank Gansz, his special teams coach at SMU who passed away last April.
“Be more aggressive than your opponent,” Morstead recalled. Which is why Sean Payton’s halftime decision made sense to him.
Of all the heroes from the Saints winning tonight’s Super Bowl, one of the best sports stories in generations, Morstead may have been the most unlikely. Morstead is a rookie. He had only been a punter before this year and had never kicked off. Before two weeks ago, he said, Morstead had never practiced an onside kick.
And yet, he may have booted the most memorable and meaningful kickoff in NFL history – the onside kick that gave the Saints the ball to begin the second half.
Twenty minutes before halftime ended, Sean Payton walked by Morstead and told him the Saints would try a surprise on kick.
“I wasn’t worried,” Morstead said. “I was just terrified.”
Payton gathered the team around him with four minutes remaining before the second half started. “We didn’t come here just to play the game,” he told them. “We came here to win the game.” Payton told them they would run “Ambush” — the name of the Saints surprise onside.
When Morstead came out of the halftime locker room, he warmed up by punting. He heard a coach yell he had to go, so he took one kickoff into a practice net for the sake of deception.
“I wanted them to see me hit one,” Morstead said. “I’ve kicked the same kick all year. Right hash, kick it deep right. And I wanted them to see that right before we went out.”
Morstead played soccer in high school, and he had an aptitude for bending his kicks. Former Saints kicker and current assistant John Carney told Morstead to kick the same way on onside kicks.
Morstead rolled a spinning ball toward Hank Baskett. “I was praying it would go 10 yards,” Morstead said. Before it did, Baskett dove for it and the ball bounced off his chest. Morstead saw linebacker Chris Reis jump on the ball. He heard an official yell, “Blue ball!”
“That’s when I started trying to pull people off,” Morstead said.
Eventually, the referees made the right call and gave the ball to the Saints – and Morstead had his unique place in NFL history.