MIAMI – After playing a major part in a play that’s sure to live on in highlight films forever, Thomas Morstead clutched an 8x10 black-and-white photo.
He sat on a stage and spoke through a microphone, but only hinted at what he held in his hand and his heart as he spoke to the international media. He talked at length about the onside kick at the start of the second half that basically tilted the game toward the Saints.
“When coach called that play, and it just made sense to me,’’ said Morstead, a rookie punter, who also handles kickoffs. “My special-teams coach in college, who just passed away last year, he always said, 'Be more aggressive than the opponent.' We knew it was open. I was terrified and excited at the same time because I knew we could do it if I executed."
Then, as he walked back to the New Orleans Saints locker room, Morstead showed the picture and began talking from his heart. He began talking about Frank Gansz Sr., the man who helped Morstead and the New Orleans Saints win the first Super Bowl championship in franchise history.
“I was only with him for a year,’’ Morstead said. "It was crazy how he would always tell me 'We got one year. We got one year to get you ready.'’’
Gansz was Morstead’s special teams coach at Southern Methodist University. Gansz was a legendary special teams coach who worked on the college and NFL levels for more than 40 years. Gansz died April 27, 2009, the day after the Saints surprised everyone by trading up in the fifth round to draft Morstead.
Gansz had knee-replacement surgery and reportedly died after complications arose.
“As soon as I got drafted I went to the hospital,’’ Morstead said. “He was in a coma. I saw him on a respirator. He used to always tell me 'God had us together for a reason,' but he never told me what the reason was. Sometimes I feel like ... He's done a lot for a lot of people.’’
Maybe what happened Sunday night was part of the reason Morstead and Gansz were together last season. Morstead said the experience helped prepare him for when Sean Payton called on him to try to line drive a kick and put backspin on it to open the third quarter. Morstead did and it worked to perfection as teammate Chris Reis recovered.
As Morstead got ready to step back into the locker room, he shook a hand and held the picture of Gansz in the other. He opened the door to the locker room and said he had to make a call. He said he was about to call Gansz’s family.