Maybe it’s because they play games only once a week, the anticipation building until that Sunday afternoon kickoff crescendo when the roar descends from the upper-level heavens and the kicker approaches the ball and the ball tumbles end over end, the returner catches the ball, darts up field and 60 minutes of mayhem, fueled by beer and scantily clad cheerleaders, is unleashed.
Whatever it is, there’s something special about the NFL. Something special about the 32 teams and the bond with their fans. No doubt Steelers and Packers fans will protest, but the bond between the New Orleans Saints and their fans is difficult to match.
On Sunday morning, January 24, 2015 in New Orleans, Saints punter Thomas Morstead led runners in a 10K as part of the Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon and Half Marathon. Morstead and his wife, Lauren, pushed their 9-month-old son, Max, in a stroller, raising awareness for Feed the Children, whose vision is that no child should go to bed hungry.
Morstead recently finished his sixth season with the Saints. His father was raised in Lake Charles, La. An uncle attended LSU. While Thomas was raised in Texas, Cajun runs in his veins. He does not even pretend to hide his respect for Saints fans.
“From the moment you come into the NFL you’re told it’s a business,” Morstead said. “Don’t get too emotionally attached to the city or the organization. But the fans here love the team so much you feel it as a player. They’re so unwavering in their love and support. They bleed with the team.”
Morstead is not Drew Brees. He’s a punter. He wears No. 6, not Brees’ 9. But he has worn the Saints black and gold for six years. He is recognized in public. He can recite hundreds of fan-interaction tales.
“Anytime I go out, it’s rare somebody doesn’t come up to me and at least say, ‘What’s up?’ Or ‘We love having you in New Orleans.’ They’ll say, ‘Hey, can I get a picture? My grandson will not believe I met you.’ Even mild Saints fans know their players.”
Morstead paints a picture of being raised in an upper-middle-class environment. His father is an engineer, his mother an executive assistant.
“I had a great childhood,” he said. “My parents are still together. They’ve never missed a game of my professional career, home or away. I had a great family. I had everything I could need growing up.”
Yet he knows others are not so blessed. He has developed a foundation called What You Give Will Grow, which essentially adopts the Pay It Forward creed. His foundation’s vision: “To improve the life of those in need through support of local causes and organizations in the New Orleans and Gulf South with strong focus on children’s charities and cancer initiatives.”
Morstead said, “I’m very well compensated for doing a job I love. And the reason I’m well compensated is because of the fans’ support. I feel an obligation to give back to the community in any way I can.”
“Some people have some basic needs that are not met, like not having enough food during the day. That’s heart-breaking.”
Kevin Hagan is CEO of Feed The Children, which reaches all 50 states, plus 18 countries. On its Web site, the first sentence about the organization reads, “Feed The Children exists to end childhood hunger.” In 2014, the organization served more than 10,000,000 individuals in the United States. Internationally, 350,000 children were enrolled in Feed The Children’s day-to-day programs.
On Saturday, January 23, in partnership with New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton’s Play It Forward Foundation, Feed The Children served meals and life essentials such as toilet paper and toothpaste to 400 local families.
“It is tremendously sad and unfortunate that in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, we still have so many children at risk of going to bed hungry,” Hagan said. “One in five kids are at risk of going to bed hungry, which is shocking. Food is just a basic life necessity.
“A child should not have to worry about where hit next meal comes from. We want to help kids be kids. They should be worried about playing, growing and learning.
“We’re excited to be a part of the 2015 Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K. We’re excited about the partnership we have with Thomas and other groups, like Coach Payton’s foundation. New Orleans is one of those areas where we will continue to work.”