Although he was as disappointed as his teammates after Minnesota Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs' "Miracle in Minneapolis" catch in the NFC Championship Game, punter Thomas Morstead was the first New Orleans Saints player to return to the field for the formality of the point-after-touchdown attempt.
Thomas Morstead dreamed of the 2017 season ending in Minneapolis, site of Super Bowl LII.
Just not quite how things actually played out last week.
Most notably, the New Orleans Saints Pro Bowl punter wasn’t joined in the Twin Cities by his teammates. Morstead was in town primarily as president of his foundation, which has a fitting name: What You Give Will Grow.
But the circumstances that enabled him to bless the Children’s Hospital of Minnesota with a check for $221,143 at a packed press conference is the fruit of the 31-year-old father’s upbringing and a simple yet seemingly difficult ethos to illustrate: What You Do Will Show.
“Just Being Me”
The Saints, leading the Minnesota Vikings 24-23, were seconds away from clinching a spot in the NFC title game. Only 10 seconds remained, and the Vikings were 61-yards from the end zone and a meaty completion from a long-range field goal attempt.
Though the Saints had won Super Bowl XLIV, the franchise had suffered losing records in four of the seven seasons since. After a poor start, the Saints were one of the hottest teams entering the postseason, and they had the Vikings on the verge of defeat.
Then the Minneapolis Miracle happened, with Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs transforming a sideline catch into a 61-yard, walk-off touchdown.
Morstead was crushed.
“People don’t understand how difficult it is when the season ends during the postseason,” Morstead told SportsEngine. “You spend so much time and energy, bonding with the guys. You expect to play another week, then you have exit meetings the next day, then you’re gone.
"When you come back in the spring, some of the relationships are gone forever,” he added. “Guys are released, some traded, some retire. That team is never together again.”
As disappointed as his teammates, however, Morstead was the first Saints player to return to the field, for the formality of the point-after-touchdown attempt.
Asked why, Morstead stumbled through an answer.
“I just did it. I didn’t think much of it,” he said. “It was tough, as we were jogging out, to go all the way across the field. But there is a way you should handle things, and most of the time, deep down, people know what the right thing to do is.”
Truth is, Morstead’s father modeled that for him and his brother, Patrick. Their father worked as an engineer, though he was talented enough to have success as a professional cyclist.
“He knows about being gritty, and outworking people,” Morstead said of his father. “I always admired his uncompromising values.”
Morstead said his father was selfless, placing his family’s needs above his own desires.
“You would never know of his career in cycling: No newspaper clippings or trophies,” Morstead said. “There’s a humbleness, a quiet confidence, and he just does things the right way.”
During his senior year Pearland High School, in a suburb of Houston, Thomas lined up for a game-tying extra point in a playoff game at the Astrodome. His attempt hit the upright … and his team lost the game.
“I was destroyed,” Morstead said. “My whole city was at that game.”
There was a ready-made excuse: The uprights at the Astrodome were not high-school ones, which are wider, therefore theoretically providing enough space for his extra point to have counted.
But Morstead accepted full responsibility for missing the kick to everyone, including his father and grandfather. Later, after he left the conversation, Morstead overheard a comment from his father.
“My dad is a quiet guy,” Morstead said, “but he thought it was cool that I wasn’t deflecting any blame or unfairness that we weren’t playing on the right pipes.”
That is, naturally, a proud moment for a son with a deep respect for his father.
Yet integrity is critically important to him.
“We’re the only Morstead in the entire United States,” he said. “There’s that feeling that reputation is important in our family. The vast majority of times, it’s very clear to see what the right thing is, even if it’s not always easy. But I was just being me.”
Amid the chaos, Morstead’s actions didn’t go unnoticed. Vikings fan Garrick Shurts posted a message on reddit.com, highlighting Morstead’s class, and encouraged others to donate to the punter’s charity.
In 18 hours, Viking fans had donated $1,800. When donations reached $25,000, Morstead tweeted that he would fly to the Twin Cites the week of the Super Bowl and personally present a check to the Children’s Hospital if they topped $100,000.
Because, after all, What You Give Will Grow was inspired by Thomas and his wife Lauren to “help the New Orleans community and beyond — especially children battling cancer — and encourage the giving spirit.”
So Thomas and Lauren were overwhelmed last week, as they served as ambassadors and presented the $221,143 check to Children’s Minnesota.
“This is an amazing expression of generosity,” Children’s Minnesota president Marc Gorelock told the Star Tribune. “Your devotion and passion to this cause is incredible. We are now on the same team making a difference for kids. It is going to a great cause.”
Morstead got to return to Minnesota, where his family has roots: His England-born mother first stepped foot in the U.S. in Duluth, Minnesota; and his father placed second in a road racing championship in the state decades ago. Morstead's foundation now has more donors from Minnesota than Louisiana.
“How crazy is that?” Morstead said. “It’s come full circle, with how all this has happened.”
But lest you be confused about his desired result.
Asked if would still prefer to be at Super Bowl LII as a player, Morstead said, “Absolutely!”
“This wouldn’t have blown up like it did if we had won this game,” he added. “But that’s what keeps happening with our foundation. These opportunities just keep arising, and it’s been organic and pure. I think people believe in it, and it’s real and authentic.”