Former Saints K Garrett Hartley**
Welcome back to the show. We continue to look back five years later – Super Bowl XLIV. The man that got the Saints there with his legs is joining me now on the phone, Garrett Hartley. Garrett, thanks for coming on today.
"Hey! It's good to be back, man. It has definitely been a while and looking back, I can't believe it has been five years now."
Yeah, hard to believe it, Garrett and I want to talk about, before we get to the Super Bowl, I want to talk about that NFC championship game, it was your 40-yard kick in overtime that sent the team to Miami to take on the Colts – what was that moment like for you, being able to have the game-winning kick?
"Looking back at it now, game 28, instead of 23, it's really had its course to settle in and realize what that kick meant, not just for me personally, or as a team, but more for a city that needed something to happen. And I just couldn't be more proud to be a part of it. That memory will be forever instilled in my mind."
Yeah, absolutely. Alright, I want to get to the game now. I've been asking everyone the same question as we've been looking back on the Super Bowl. Leading up to it, it probably feels like a long two weeks for you guys, but what was it like for you? Was it nerves, was it anxiousness, or were you trying to keep it as normal as possible for those two weeks leading up to the big game?
"Really just trying to keep it as calm, but at the same time, you definitely enjoy it. It's not an opportunity that comes around very often and now heading into my eighth year in the NFL, it's definitely something I realize more. Having the guys that we did on the team, from obviously Drew Brees to John Carney, my kicking coach, and just what he did for me – mentally just helping me stay calm, stay ready and stay focused. That was part of the development process that we had along the waiting period before we went to Miami and then once we were down there actually working out and it's about our regular schedule leading up to the game."
Now does anything change in your preparation because it's such a big game, or again, is your routine still normal, just like you're preparing for any other game?
"Absolutely. The routine never changes. Obviously, built on a lot of hype, kind of like a college bowl game, in that you're there a week early, you're practicing in a different location, yet the practice schedule, the periods day-to-day, those are all the same. So that part never changes and you just have to relax and go about that routine, which is crucial in order to be successful."
OK, so you finally get to the big game. Game day, when you wake up, what is going through your mind?
"It's just like, here we are. I don't know how much I really slept the night before. Just playing every different scenario in your head and at the same time knowing that your body needs to get some rest. So you wake up, it's the day of and you go in, having a late game having a team meeting in the morning and really from there it's just kind of separating yourself from everyone else – letting them enjoy all the festivities, all the events leading up to it and then you just focus in and know what you have to do and it's just like any other game day at that point."
OK, Garrett, it was the first half – you put up the only points for the Saints and you guys are down 10-6 at the half. What was the mood like in the locker room at the half?
"After we hit the last field goal going into halftime and it really just had unsettling nerves like 'we got this' in the locker room and I remember sitting next to Thomas (Morstead) and when Coach Payton looked up and said 'it's on: Ambush is on' and I just remember looking over at him and kind of making a joke about it, just like 'hey, you got this, you've done it 100 times in practice' and I was like, 'it's go time'"
Absolutely. That was going to bring in my next question – did you ever think Payton was going to make that call in the Super Bowl and run Ambush?
"That's the thing about Sean Payton, you never know exactly what he is going to do, or call. In the offensive realm of things, but also in the special teams, for the most part it has always been kind of conservative and then at a moment's notice you have, potentially, one of the biggest plays of Super Bowl XLIV coming out at halftime with Thomas (Morstead) hitting the onside kick."
Yeah, unbelievable play there and obviously after that the momentum shifted toward you guys – Pierre Thomas with the touchdown and then after that you guys don't look back, and win. But you, you had two field goals in the first half over 40 yards and you had another one in the second. Did you know you were the first kicker to kick three 40 or more yard line field goals in the Super Bowl?
"That was definitely the last thing on my mind at that point and someone told me after the game, but I'm like 'hey that's awesome, but we just won the Super Bowl so it doesn't matter.' I honestly hope that record is broken one day – I'd love to see a kicker go out there and execute, regardless if it's three over 40 or just three field goals or even hitting one field goal in that game, knowing that you're helping contribute points, but at the same time, you have to give credit to the offensive line, to the snapper, to the holder and you're really just the end part helping the pieces of the puzzle come together."
Alright, do you have a favorite memory from the Super Bowl? Obviously winning it was a big part, but was there a certain part – whether it's holding the Lombardi Trophy or celebrating with teammates maybe even the parade after. Was there a moment to you that one of the many that stick out to you where you say 'I will never forget this moment'?
"Knowing that after watching the clock tick down and knowing that we're Super Bowl champs and being able to celebrate that with my team, on the field, and having my brother and his wife out there, and having my parents and my best friends from high school in the stands and being able to enjoy that moment with them, as well as my teammates and looking up and seeing Drew hold up that trophy. That was just a picturesque moment and something that can never be taken away from you as an individual and as a team and as Coach Vitt says, we will walk together forever for that moment and for Super Bowl XLIV and what we were able to accomplish in the 2009 season."
Absolutely, that's a great way to look at it there. Before I let you go, I know some people like to wear their ring. Some people do not, they like to put it away. How often do you wear your ring? Do you even take it out, or is it somewhere special?
"I think for the first three weeks, I probably never took it off and now it's definitely in a safe place and now, whenever I need to do charity events or different outings, especially down here in New Orleans, I absolutely wear it and it's something to be proud of. It's not just a ring, it's a piece of hardware and it's the memories – the accomplishment that goes along with it and knowing that people play their whole career and never get an opportunity to go to it, let alone win it and knowing I was just a part of something so special, with the other guys that suited up, it really is such a real feeling and just a moment of all of our dreams and aspirations coming through that season."
Yeah and some of the city will never forget and Garrett, you were a huge part of that Super Bowl winning team and I really do appreciate you coming on and sharing some of your memories with us today.
"Hey, no, I appreciate it and, like I said, just that team from the 2009 season will walk together forever and I couldn't be more proud of the players, the coaches, and the staff that we had. It definitely makes you want to get back, wherever these guys are at in their career, whatever team that might be and just be able to get back there and just know that during the 2009 season we were able to accomplish that as a team, for the Saints, and for the city of New Orleans."
Former Saints DE Will Smith
We continue our conversation about Super Bowl XLIV and now five years later visiting with many members of that football team and that includes, of course, Will Smith. Will, can you believe it has been five years since Super Bowl XLIV?
"No, I can't, I mean it feels like it was yesterday and time flies. It is something that is embedded in me."
I know your life changed after that, but does it continue to change? How would you describe life five years after being a Super Bowl champion?
"It always changes after you win a Super Bowl. If you listen to numbers of all people who win a Super Bowl, there are really not that many people who have played professional football, who have won a championship, so it's always cool to be in that group of guys that actually won."
That concept of being bonded together for life because of that campaign, it seems to resonate with everybody.
"Yes, it does. I still stay in contact with everyone on that team and it's a bond of brothers that we will never forget that and it's a great experience that we all had together."
For you, what stands out the most, or the most vividly? What comes to mind?
"Just adversity to overcome in those tough situations and to overcome it. Everyone expected to win every single game. If it was close and tight, there was no doubt in our minds that we were going to lose those games. Even though we went to the Super Bowl, I think we were underdogs, in my mind I thought 'we're going to win this game.'"
It seems to be the case, even after ending the season with three regular season losses, Will, was it because of the 13-0 start, was it because of the leadership in the locker room? Why did you all seem destined to win, even when maybe it looked like that wasn't going to be the case?
"We lost the last three games, but we understood, we lost to Tampa, Carolina, can't remember the other team, but it was kind of, we had already had home field advantage and Coach Payton took the approach and said, 'hey, I want to make sure my guys are healthy and prepared for the playoffs.' These upcoming games, even though they meant something, they didn't mean that much because we had already secured that No. 1 seed."
Will, were you able to enjoy the two week process that goes from the NFC championship to the Super Bowl?
"No, you don't really enjoy it in the sense of the celebration part of it. Our biggest goal was just focusing on, OK, how do we prepare to play the Colts in the Super Bowl? We were like, 'OK, what do we have to do in the Super Bowl to win this game?' Right after the NFC championship game, maybe a day later we got back to work and we were focused on the goal at hand. Even when we got to the Super Bowl, when we arrived in Miami, we were staying at the hotel, but we didn't have any intentions about going to this party or that party. The guys were like, 'we have to be focused and be able to win this game.' You don't see that a lot these days – everybody is kind of worried about other stuff going on. It was cool that we had 53 guys on the roster that were all focused."
There has been so much written and recorded and talked about to that team, Will, and the Super Bowl, and how exciting and everything else. Is there something here, five years later, a story, or an aspect of that experience, that you don't think has been shared?
"I would probably just say the way the guys adapted with each other. Gregg Williams was defensive coordinator and we never really jelled as a defense, and he was able to come in and kind of make everyone jell together and we found that we were doing a lot of things that a lot of guys didn't think was possible to do or a lot of guys didn't think it was possible for them to do it. I think that's really the biggest story, because there was a time where he was able to get the best out of every single player on that defense."
What would you describe the feeling is when that game ends?
"It was a great feeling. You have so much anxiety during the course of the game or leading up to the game and then the game is kind of 'OK, let me just focus on my keys and play my part in this game.' After you win is just kind of a relief, like – it's finally over, we finally did what we wanted to accomplish. It's more or less a relief and the anxiety goes away and that's when you kind of get a chance to celebrate and enjoy it."
You guys finally say I think the exuberance of the fan base and the city when you all came home for the victory parade. But as you won the NFC championship, Will, and as you were preparing for the Super Bowl, even with some sort of a bunker mentality, the focus on the 53, could you all as a team feel the energy of the city behind you? Was that palpable?
"Yeah, definitely. Just leading up to that game, the NFC championship game, we could feel the energy from the fans, from the city – it was a buzz like no other. Everything, even on the news they reported about what we were doing. After we won the NFC championship game, it was just 24/7 on the TV, it was just Saints, Saints, Saints, Saints, Saints. We all understood the importance of where we were at and we knew that anyone wanted us to win this game, especially the people of Louisiana. It was just the energy that, even when we got to Miami and looked around it was nothing but Saints fans. We knew we had a huge support group and we just thought it was great."
Will, I guess the greatest personal commemoration is probably a Super Bowl ring but was there anything else that you kept from Super Bowl XLIV, that you still have today? Maybe even displayed in your home, that is uniquely yours, that you made sure you had to have?
"Well, I kept everything. Obviously, I have my jersey from the game, my cleats and gloves. Pretty much everything. All of the T-shirts we got, all of the gift bags – I kept everything because my approach was 'hey, you never know if I'm going to be able to make it back here again' so I want to keep everything and enjoy the moment because I don't know if we will get back to this point. Like you said, every year is different and teams change every single season. Me in my mind, I thought I need to keep everything."