New Orleans Saints Center Max Unger - Conference Call with New Orleans Media - Monday, March 18, 2019
“I just first and foremost want to thank the Benson’s, obviously the late Mr. Benson, Mickey (Loomis) and Sean (Payton) and the whole organization for getting me down in New Orleans, (when) You look back at your career and you realize how pivotal it was getting traded down here and how unbelievable it's been to play for the Saints in the (Mercedes-Benz) Superdome and live and play in New Orleans. At the end of the day, I am retiring just because I did not think I could make it through another season. I was discussing health issues and at the end of the day you kind of evaluate how you're playing and where you see life after football going and I just made the decision to retire.”
When did that realization happen for you that you may retire and how did you reach that decision?
“I've had some long-term issues that I've had to do a lot of maintenance on, just lower body issues, stuff that just bothers me getting into a stance and there's a doctor that I had been in touch with for the last couple years and he'd recommended I do a surgery that was going to take pretty much all of the offseason and going into year 11, I just couldn't do that. I've known about this for a little while, it's just kind of been a maintenance issue. But, at the end of the day, I've done a surgery which took me out for the whole offseason and it didn't go very well, not the surgery, just my play and to do that going into year 11, I didn't think it was going to work out.”
When did you make the decision ultimately?
“Right when we got done with the season, I've been talking to my wife and just kind of assessing how I felt recovering from the season and ultimately, probably the last month or so is really when I kind of made the decision. It's not easy. This is obviously not easy, right? There's a lot of very close relationships with guys that I have a lot of respect for and to have to call them and kind of tell them this, it is tough. But the last month I think I came to (the) realization that I was done.”
When you walked off the field for the NFC Championship game, did you know it was your last game?
“No, I did not think that. Again, this was kind of during this offseason. I have definitely been thinking about it and monitoring it and I thought maybe it might have been, but I guess to answer your question, I was not sure. Did I think in my head that it might be, yeah, absolutely and obviously that is not the way you want to go out, but at the end of the day, your health is a priority and so if it was the last game, obviously that sucks. But, at the end of the day, you look back at your career and kind of think about that more than one game.”
You mentioned missing that offseason with the foot surgery two years ago. Is this related to that or is this a different issue?
“No, it's different, but that's kind of a reference for me. (For) me individually as a player, I need to go to training camp and then you have the offseason program and it’s 100 percent commitment to stuff like that. I think (if I missed that) my play would have deteriorated very rapidly.”
You were voted to the Pro Bowl this past season. You mentioned looking back at how you were playing; did you think your play dropped off this past season?
“Just looking back, I'm getting older. There's no way for me to replicate the play of me five years ago or really a couple of years ago and that's just the reality of life. That's a tough pill to swallow too. Ask any player that gets over 30 and you start to kind of feel the time wearing on you. Definitely, that factors in. Was I playing bad? No. Was I playing kind of up to my standard? I don't think so either. So that was a factor.”
The announcement came as a surprise to us publicly. How long ago did you let the Saints know about it?
“We’ve been talking for a while. Maybe a month or so, maybe less than that. I'm actually not really sure to be honest with you. I don't do dates very well in the offseason.”
Prior to the start of free agency, did they have time to make plans?
You kind of talked about enjoying your experience down here in New Orleans, but was it kind of what you expected when you first came down here? How did work your way into this community?
“I lived in Bellevue (Washington) when I played for the Seahawks and you could not really have two different cities. Bellevue is a big tech town, pretty much all new builds, skyscrapers and whatnot. You get down here and it is drastically different. It took a little while to get used to just kind of living down here and the lifestyle and what was going on every day. Once I kind of got into it with some friends, my wife made some friends. We lived in uptown, we had a really cool neighborhood, lots of really good neighbors. My teammates down here and their wives just created an unbelievable atmosphere. It is really going to be easy to get back. You see retired players that played here, however long ago, always back in town and you just realize why because it is a special place. It's unique and it was the best possible outcome for me to get traded out here.”
What are you going to miss about football?
“It's really the only thing I've known for the past 20 years so I guess the answer is everything. My life has revolved around football since I was a freshman in high school. It's a lifestyle that I know, but the thing that probably will be the hardest to replace or the thing I’ll miss the most was just the locker room. You hear that a lot, but being around 50 plus of your closest friends for six months, you don't really find that anywhere else. It's the staff, it's the equipment staff, it’s the trainers, the groundskeepers, it's the relationships you have with the people that we see every day, but don't get too much credit. It's all that stuff, a locker room.”
Do you see yourself staying around football after retirement?
“I'm not sure. Coaching is always an option. I'm not really going to pursue that quite yet, but, as far as being around the NFL, probably not. I'll definitely coach high school football here (in Hawaii) actually pretty soon, but other than that, no, I don't have any plans to coach.”
You said you're going to coach high school football. Have you talked about local or are you going to go back home to Hawaii and do it?
“Yes, I'm moving back to Hawaii here pretty soon. I'll be back in Hawaii.”
This might be partly our fault in the media, but I think a lot of people still refer to that trade that brought you to New Orleans as the Jimmy Graham trade. I don't know what you remember from that experience, but I mean, how tough was it for you at all coming here, you know, was there any added pressure just trying to come here in a trade for a guy like that?
“Yeah. That was pretty wild. I obviously was not expecting to get traded. I loved my time in Seattle. I liked living up there. There were a lot of things I was familiar with and it was a good setup for me. And then I got traded down here. I've never lived in the South. I’ve only really ever lived on the west coast. And so get down here, new city, new team, a new system. It was hard. Then we kind of got into it and have been around obviously these last couple of years. It ended up working out. But pressurewise, football's football as far as performance goes. So I wouldn't say I felt a lot more pressure. It was just the stress of a new system, a new city and a new town. So that was, again, it worked out well, but it was challenging.”
What do you want people to remember about you now that your playing career has ended?
“That is a tough one, dude. I personally, as an offensive lineman we talk about creating a culture of toughness and effort. Personally, we've been able to do that. You have volume of work that you've put on film for the last 10 years and that, you know, should really speak volumes.”
You retire having started more games at center than anyone else with Drew Brees in his career. What did that relationship mean to you and just what’s it been like working with him the past four years?
“You can't say enough about Drew. I talked to him, that was obviously a hard call. But, he set the standard for the position. I mean it was a privilege to be able to get the ball to him and you can't say enough about what he's been able to do and for me to be a part of that, is special and for what he's been able to accomplish. I get to have a little bit of that with me, but yeah, it's been amazing to work with him.”
Max, you got a chance to work with Cameron, Tom and Will Clapp. What have you kind of see out of those who got as far as the ability to play center?
“Yes, the sky's the limit. We have several promising players on the o-line and then they got some snaps last year and it's a tough position, but I think that both of them are more than capable and so I expect a lot out of them.”
Are you upset your penalty streak without a penalty didn’t continue, having been penalized in the NFC Divisional Playoff vs. Philadelphia, your first since Week Nine of 2016?
“I'll just say that was a tough call. Okay. That was a tough one. I had a good little streak they're going, but it would've been nice to go out clean, if you will. But, it's all good, man. I think the one before that was Monday night at home against Dallas in 2016 so it was a good streak while lasted.”