New Orleans Saints QB
Thursday, May 27, 2010
What has it been like balancing all the things that have been thrown at you since winning the Super Bowl?
“I think just about every player on our team had their high school jersey retired and a street named after them in their hometowns; all of those things that are great things. But certainly there comes a time when you have to get back to work and you have to start thinking about how you can go out and accomplish the things that we’re still setting out to accomplish and hit that level of success that we experienced last year. As much as we want to sit here and say, ‘We’re just going to build on what we did last year and take it where we left off and continue to go up from there,’ the fact of the matter is that every year is a new year and every team is a new team, regardless of how many guys you have coming back. We’re lucky in that we only lost three starters from last season, when you talk about Charles Grant, Scott Fujita and Mike Bell – who contributed quite a bit in the running game last year. We have a lot of returning starters and a lot of returning veterans.
“But the fact of the matter is that circumstances change; for some guys, they’re getting a little older. For young guys, that’s a good thing; they become a little bit more veteran, a little bit more experienced. I think there’s a fine line there where you can take the experience from last year, you can take the success from last year and the confidence that was built and that’s all a good thing – you want to carry that forward and continue to build on that. But what you also have to understand is that we are building a new team and that it is a new year. I felt like we had a great draft; we’ll watch and see how these new guys are going to fill in. Some of them might end up being starters and some others might contribute a lot, although they might not be a starter.
“There are plenty of things from last year that we can look at and say that we were good at it but we can be better. And there are some other things that we weren’t very good at and we need to get much better at it. I think the philosophy is still that we have not arrived by any means. Yes, we accomplished the pinnacle of success in our business but it was just one year. The fact of the matter is that when this season starts, or even right now as we sit here today, there are 32 teams out there that feel like this is going to be their year. What I do feel like we have is a great window of opportunity because we do have a lot of the pieces of the puzzle in place that we’ve built here over the last four years and there’s an expectation level and a bar that we’ve set for ourselves. By no means can we relax or think that we’re entitled to anything because if anything, everyone is gunning for us and it’s going to be harder because we have the bull’s eye on our chest and I think people know the type of team that we can be but the fact of the matter is that we have to go out and prove that every week.”
If you were and oddsmaker, would you make the Saints the favorites?
“I think if you were just going to look at the returning starters and talent level and all those things, you’d say the Saints are a favorite. I think just about every year you’d look at the team that won the Super Bowl the year before and if they have most everyone coming back then you’d say that you don’t see why they can’t do it again. I look at our team and I say I don’t see why we can’t do it again. But that doesn’t mean that we’ll just walk out on the field and expect people to lay down for us and it’s just going to happen. We still have to put in the type of effort in the weight room, on the practice field, in the film room; everything that we do to prepare, we have to even take it to the next level because we know that in every game on our schedule this year, the other team is looking at it and circling the New Orleans Saints as a team that they would love to beat. Because I know that’s the way I approach it. If there’s a team coming to town that might have won our division the year before or won their conference or won the Super Bowl – that gives you a little extra pep in your step.”
“It’s hard to believe that I was in the NFL at the time and giving him his high school CIF Championship ring and now we’re playing on the same team. I’ve been impressed with him. I’ve been around him now for a week-and-a-half; we had a week of just weight training and conditioning and a little bit of throwing together and then these three practices this week. But I think he has picked up the system pretty well. He’s making quick decisions; he’s delivering the ball accurately; he’s getting in and out of the huddle. He’s doing all the things that you want a young quarterback to do. He’s creating a tempo and a rhythm and playing with confidence. He’s a pretty low-key, mild-mannered guy, but I like what I’ve seen from him so far.”
Coach Payton said that he spoke to the team this week about the difficulties the team might face going into this season. What kind of sense have you gotten from your teammates of how you fill face the trials of being defending champions?
“It’s interesting because as we were going into the playoffs last year, there were times where we’d be out at practice on in the meeting room and Sean would ask, ‘Who in this room has ever been the one-seed?’ and very few people would raise their hands. And then he’d ask, ‘Who has ever been to a Super Bowl?’ and very few people would raise their hands. A lot of us were going into uncharted territory last year, going into the playoffs as the one-seed and hosting the NFC Championship and going to the Super Bowl and winning the Super Bowl. So these were all things that we really have had to learn as we have gone along here. This offseason I’ve tried to talk to as many people as I can who have won the big one and then had to come back and try to repeat and maintain that level of success and it’s difficult. In fact, a lot of times it’s more difficult to stay at the top once you’re there than it is to rise from the bottom to the top. There are challenges there but they are ones that we recognize. I think the teams that falter are the ones that maybe don’t recognize that or don’t pay attention to that but we’ve put a lot of emphasis on those things.”
Who were some of those people you talked to? Were they other quarterbacks and did they have any specific advice for you?
“I have my mentors and I have people that I come across that I ask those questions to. I won’t name any specific names, but there were other quarterbacks and other players that were part of other successful teams, and not necessarily in football but in other sports. But the fact is that it’s within that realm of sports and within that realm of a team game where you have to find ways to not only motivate yourself but to motivate your teammates and keep your eye on the prize and always be ready for that next challenge. There’s the thought that you’re only as good as your next performance. I’m always thinking about that there’s always respect to be earned and things to be gained and you do have to earn that on a daily basis from everybody.”
Was there a point in this offseason where after all of the appearances and celebrations that you were ready to get back on the field?
“Absolutely. I’ve had some wonderful opportunities this offseason and have gotten to meet a lot of great people and do a lot of neat things while at the same time spending time with my family and my son, all of those things that I want to do in the offseason. The thing that suffered most was golf – I haven’t played as much golf. But that’s OK; I hope we have a lot more offseasons like this where we’re coming off a very successful season. We all need that time to relax and to get away and to recharge the battery and to do some of the things that we’ve done, but you start to feel when it’s time to go back to work. We played an extra five weeks so we were in mid-February and it was our first break and so then we didn’t start back up again until mid-April, which I thought was a very good move by Sean because I think the recovery part of anything is probably the most underestimated. That can be just after a hard-fought game or in this case you look at it in the bigger picture of an entire offseason. The last thing he wanted to do was to bring guys back too early when our minds and our bodies weren’t ready for the grind again, because then we’re not going to get out of it what we need to get out of it. So we needed to get away and rest ourselves mentally and physically and do what we needed to do and then come back focused. We always push our mini-camps and OTAs back to late May and what I’ve found with that is that guys are chomping at the bit by the time we step on the field like we did on Tuesday. It’s fast, guys are flying around, we’re installing the offense, the defense, putting in new wrinkles and competing against one another and that’s fun and exciting.”
Was there a time last year that you thought you had a special team?
“I’m lucky because I’ve been a part of a lot of great teams and what I feel were just special groups of guys. I still talk to so many guys that I’ve played with over the years and I think that says a lot. It started around this time with Gregg Williams coming in and doing what he did with the defense and us understanding what we needed to do on offense to get better. I’ve said before that last year was the most competitive offseason that I’ve ever been a part of when you talk about OTAs, mini-camp, preseason, training camp – and I felt like that prepared us so well for the season. And I feel like we’re starting off again that way this year. Every time you step on the field, you’re out to prove something. You play with a chip on your shoulder; it’s competitive. We talk about finishing strong. We did that last year and we’re doing it again this year because when you have that mentality, it just breeds confidence and swagger. Plus our defense has proved that they can play at a very high level and our offense has proved that we can play at a very high level so the thought of competing against what we feel like is the best, when you step on the field on game day we feel like we’ve already seen everything we can see from our defense so it should be easy and they feel the same way when they step on the field.”
When you get the platform that you got as a Super Bowl champion, do you embrace it?
“Absolutely. We’ve been given a great platform as professional athletes to influence a lot of people, especially kids. Certainly now when we accomplished what we accomplished, as NFL Champions, World Champions, we know that a lot of people saw what we did and recognize us for that and we have opportunities to go out and represent the city and talk about the city and about our team and it sheds a really great light on New Orleans and all the things that are important to me. I’ve really tried to take advantage of that. That week after the Super Bowl, getting to go on Ellen and Oprah and David Letterman and go to Disney World and to get to talk to so many people about us winning that championship for the city of New Orleans and everything that New Orleans has been through and yet here was New Orleans coming back stronger than it ever was before. I think it put such a positive light on the city and the people and those were all good things.”
Has there been any downside for you personally? Perhaps decreased privacy?
“Like I said, just that the golf game has suffered. That’s about it. There’s not a whole lot of quiet time, so I guess you could probably link that to privacy or that kind of thing. It’s hard to go somewhere and just relax unless I’m in my own home. But I guess that’s a good problem to have.”
What did you learn from Jack Nicklaus?
“I learned how to hit shots on really windy days. He invited me to play in his Pro-Am foursome at the Honda Classic at the PGA course there in West Palm Beach and hadn’t picked up a golf club since June and this was in mid-March. So I was scared; here I am about to play with the Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus, and I haven’t picked up a club in seven or eight months. So I get up there on the first tee and of course it was lined with people and I was just thinking, ‘Just don’t hit someone in the head.’ So I striped one down the middle and then I birdied 18 and that was about all that mattered. Everything in between was OK, but it was a really windy day. The wind was blowing 20-40 miles per hour at times and I was having trouble hitting the green at times. At one point on the 13th hole, I had hit a great drive so I was sitting about 130 yards out and the wind was blowing hard in our face and kind of right-to-left and Jack came up to me and told me, ‘Let me show you something.’ He dropped three balls in the fairway and he started describing how when you’re hitting shots into the wind, you want to keep the ball low so it’s less influenced by the wind so go ahead and club up one or two a couple, depending on how strong the wind is, and choke down on the club. And then he showed me to open up the face a little bit and gave me this technique of how to hit shots into the wind. So I’m listening and he goes ahead and hits the three balls that he had set on the ground and put them all up within 10 feet and made it look easy. As he’s talking and as he’s coaching me up, the gallery starts to assemble around us and the media comes up and we have cameras, and then it’s my turn as the apprentice to show his teacher that he’s coachable and I’m looking around at all the people and thinking, ‘Don’t mess this one up.’ So where I normally would have hit a pitching wedge, I took an 8-iron and choked down and did everything he said and knocked it up there to about five feet and went up and made the birdie putt. It was just the greatest moment. Here was Jack Nicklaus teaching me the art of the shot into the wind and I hit it just like he said and then made the birdie putt. It was like, ‘Man, this game’s easy.’ What was neat about it too was that it was the first birdie of the day for our group and for every birdie that we got, the tournament was making a donation to his foundation so it made a couple of thousand dollars for his foundation; there was extra incentive there too.”