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Transcript: Saints Legend Max Unger conference call - Monday, July 20

New Orleans Saints legend Max Unger talked with local media on Jul. 20

New Orleans Saints Center Max Unger
Legends Microsoft Teams Video Call with New Orleans Media
Monday, July 20, 2020

What have you been up to over the past year?
"I moved back home. I retired, what was it? After the NFC championship game in 2019? I moved back to Hawaii. My family and I spent a little bit of time on the mainland right after retirement. I stuck around in New Orleans for Mardi Gras and then moved back here and I've just kind of been helping my dad on our ranch out here in Hawaii every once in a while. Other than that, yeah, just kind of a recovering. It's been a nice, it's been an interesting break from football. I was playing football pretty much full time for the better part of 20 years. The first fall watching people play football while I was at home. It's interesting, as I think it is with most guys that retire from playing in the NFL for a while. That's kind of what I've been up to."

Did you lose a lot of weight?
"I lost about 60 pounds, maybe a little bit more than that. Maybe about 65. It's a pretty good deal. I am still waiting. It's still a little overrated. I'm still waiting to like have a little bit more energy and feel good, but I think I'm on the right track. It was a good thing to kind of focus on right out of the gate. It is another thing to obsess over and it is kind of an easy transition. You spend so much time in the NFL taking care of your body and doing treatment. You just kind of transition right into like kind of a hardcore diet and if you do it right away, it hasn't been too bad."

You said you kept waiting to feel a little bit better, I guess from kind of getting your bearings from losing weight, but how were you feeling physically at the end of your NFL career? I mean, when you retired, most of us were pretty shocked, but you said you kind of felt like it was coming.
"Oh man, yeah. (If) you start playing offensive line in the NFL past the age of 30 it's going to be tough, but it feels good. Towards the end of my career, it was time to call it quits. It felt like my body was almost at the end of able to do it. And so it felt like it was time, but I'm feeling better. It's just a lot of maintenance and the more you move around, I think the better you feel and the really the hard thing is doing stuff that you are not used to. You are used to lifting such heavy weights and conditioning for so long and really football specific stuff. As soon as you get out of that, you get humbled pretty quickly, man. I tell you what, if you go for a jog for five minutes, crushes you. That is harder than nine-on-seven in training camp, man, I'm telling you. It's been good."

What were those Sunday afternoons like last fall, just watching the Saints?
"You talk to guys, you talk to somebody like Zach (Strief) or other guys, (Jon) Stinchcomb, guys that have retired before and what their experiences (are) right after you play. It's funny because you're so familiar with what's going on in the team and you know the plays being called. It's really hard to watch the games, honestly, just because you know what personnel group is in, if they're in the red zone you kind of know what's going on and you're so invested in the players and how they're doing. When you do not know what is going on and you do not have any influence in the outcome of the game it is tough. I was not expecting that, but at the same time it was, I guess, interesting is the best way to describe it. I have never had gotten to do it, right? I enjoyed it. It was nice. So far no regrets, but it was hard to watch the games to answer your question."

When you retired last year, I mean, obviously your departure was probably the biggest question mark for this team. Did you get a chance to watch Erik McCoy much and how do you feel like he did?
"The guy came in there and just played his butt off. I watched him quite a bit. I talk to Dan (Roushar), our coach, off and on and he just had nothing but really good stuff to say about how Erik played. It was impressive. The guy came in, I think he started every game, right? At center, that's hard to do especially in this offense and Drew (Brees) coming into the huddle and calling the plays at about 100 miles an hour. A lot of people have a lot of high expectations for him and really that whole group. I know that we have Cesar (Ruiz), we drafted another guy in the first round and I think that the expectations obviously pretty high for a first round draft pick coming in and playing."

Last year was your first year not playing since what age?
"Oh, man. High school. My first year playing football was in my freshman year high school. So whatever that is, 99, 2000, something like that."

When you say it is hard to do to play in this offense, come in and pick it up, what is that process like building chemistry with Drew (Brees) and getting comfortable with them and what makes it a unique challenge?
"Yeah, so this is, they've been building this offense for, this is Sean (Payton's) 15th year here. So this has been building on and he has this thing. And so Drew and Sean and everybody that's been involved with this has been building the same offense for so long and they're so familiar with it and so used to it. Even as a vet or somebody else coming in when Drew steps into the huddle for the first time, you go through the installs and you do all your stuff, but when Drew gets into the huddle and calls a play, he's drawing on 15 years of building the same offense, right? The speed and the familiarity in which people who have been in the system have with it and the complexity of it is challenging. I think I came in, when I got traded, it was my eighth year I think. I played a lot of football, but it was a pretty good learning curve, just the speed of which you are expected to grasp it and hear the play call and digest all that information and get the line and make the calls. It's hard. I hope that kind of answers your question."

You've played with a couple of different quarterbacks, is there like a unique chemistry building period with every quarterback? Is it different? A lot of people are like all they do is snap the ball, but I'm assuming it's not that easy.
"Yeah, each quarterback is different. It's funny, you go somewhere and you snap to a guy that you haven't really done, taking a lot of reps with, you go to the Pro Bowl, you're at some function and you just say, hey, snap this ball to this guy. It's pretty different, but again, the more you play center, I guess the more you can kind of adjust on the fly. Really, it just kind of becomes second nature. I'm sure Erik (McCoy) can probably tell you right now. I mean, it takes a month or so in the off season program and then now you're kind of on it and you forget about it after that."

You alluded to Sean Payton, 15 years in this offense. Just as crazy as 2020 has been with COVID and social unrest and things that have happened with the Saints, just their ability because of the institutional knowledge everybody has to maybe adapt quicker than other teams, how quickly do you think this team can deal with everything that's going on in the world and your organization, and maybe weather the storm better than maybe some other franchises potentially that are in a different situation?
"Yeah, I think that it comes down to the leaders in the locker room, the type of players that this organization brings in and I think the expectations for those players that haven't been around football for, what, going on eight months right now. That is I think the benefit of a tenured coaching staff and a group of leaders that are able to just adapt really quickly and really kind of pick up where they left off. I think that the more vets you have on your team and the more familiar you are with the offense and, I mean, this is just obviously speculation, but I'd like to see the Saints do very well with this, but this is unchartered territory as you guys know. This is something that nobody really knows what they're dealing with and I'm sitting here talking like I know what I'm talking about, but hopefully that's the case."

You played some tackle in college? What was the transition like just for you? Because the Saints have some guys who they may have to shuffle around and go from guard to center or whatever, but what was that transition like for you?
"It's not awesome. You look at a gameday roster in the NFL and you have, we're lucky, Sean's pretty awesome about getting a lot of O-linemen up on game day, but, I've played a lot of games in the NFL where we had seven guys up, right? And so the expectation in the NFL is that you are able to play multiple positions, right? You've got swing guard and tackle, sometimes an interior guy and then a swing tackle and that's pretty much it. From the outside, being able to play multiple positions on the offensive line should be a given, but it is hard. I'm not even gonna lie. I played tackle and center in college, and then I was drafted and I played guard my rookie year and it was not good. If you want to see some bad tape, turn on the 2009 Seattle Seahawks, but again, the more reps you get you have to do it, right? I think that front offices scout offensive linemen that they know can play multiple positions for that exact reason, because the transition is tough and you are expected to do it, but it is difficult. Some guys can do it better than others. I was not one of those guys. So thankfully I was able to play center well enough to just stay there."

Did you follow the hype and hoopla surrounding Taysom Hill this offseason? I know you only played with him two years and he kind of had a tremendous breakout maybe in 2019, but just your thoughts on when you hear he's the heir apparent or Sean Payton talks about him as the next Steve Young, I'm paraphrasing so don't quote me on that. But I guess Steve Young like or Steve Young ability there, but there's a lot of hype and hoopla surrounding him and just having played with him, maybe potentially being Drew's success, just your thoughts on kind of the hype of Taysom Hill.
"It's really funny, if you want to talk about just a pure athlete, right? You look at Taysom and he is the guy, right? He is ripped, fast, he has got it all, intangibles, super coordinated he is the complete deal. It was just so funny because he was a quarterback, right? And so you have this like vision of what you think a quarterback is and then all of a sudden we see Taysom in a black or a red jersey or whatever running down on kickoff one day and I don't know when it was, 2018 or something, it was the most ridiculous thing in the world and then he makes two tackles on special teams his first outing. I think everybody's eyes kind of opened up after that and then obviously his trajectory has been what it is since then, but a player like that, you have to find a way to get him on the field. I think that most of everybody's assessment of him's spot on. Where he plays, I don't know. I never got enough reps with him when he played quarterback and obviously that has changed in the almost two years that I've been out of football. All of our expectations are high. How you use him and what he does, I have no idea, but I think that the hype is justified for him athletically certainly and I think he can play quarterback. I haven't seen it enough, but I would assume so just from everything else I've seen him do."

Drew Brees is going into his 20th season in the NFL, 15th with the Saints. Is there an example from your playing days with him that it just makes sense that he's still playing it 41?
"You actually just summed it up. He's still playing football at 41. It's really hard. You guys have been around him and know what he's all about, but I've never been around somebody that's been able to stick. We all have our routines, right? The longer you play, obviously the more invested in your routine you have to be. You get older and start to get worn down a little bit, but Drew's routine is something that's hard to kind of put into words unless you've seen it. I kind of tell people that too, I played with him for four years, and never one time did I beat him into the building or leave after him. The volume of work that he puts into it for a day for me would be unsustainable and somehow he's at 41 years old and he hasn't missed a step for 20 years in the NFL. It makes sense to me that he's able to do that just seeing how much treatment he does, his training off the field and his preparation, it all makes sense. It's not surprising. I think that you see it on the field and that's the only way that you can make any sense of it."

If I can just ask you that, as somebody who's just following this from afar, obviously you're in close proximity, it's a collision contact sport. Did you have any thoughts about, like, would you have reservations playing as a veteran, or maybe as a young player feeling like I have to do it just kind of, have you thought about where you would be, if this was happening, if you were still playing?
"For me, honestly, this probably would have pushed me, if I wasn't already retired, I don't think I would have been able to do this, honestly. I think that the offseason program is critical. I think it's critical for younger players and for me, I mean, like I was a guy that needed to be in the building and I had to work out with my teammates and I had to be on a schedule that I don't think I could replicate outside of the building. If I had a squat rack and some dumbbells at my house, it would be very difficult for me to prepare for an NFL season. I also rely on my teammates in the offseason to get drill work done, and I think it's hard to replicate. I would have had a very, very, very hard time showing up and playing. This is different than 2011, right? This is different than the lockout year when we didn't have an off season program, because we were still able to get together and work out and we were still able to do stuff together as a team. This is pure isolation and trying to show up and work out. It will be a challenge. If I was still planning, it would have been very, very, very difficult for me."

So just because of the workout stuff, not necessarily because of virus protocols and staying safe?
"I've kept in touch with quite a few guys and just kind of heard bits and pieces of what the current protocols are. I would feel okay with it. The problem is, if you do get sick, I mean, yeah. You guys have talked this to death, but it's going to be tough if you lose critical players to this for whatever it is, two weeks now, it's going to be hard to have a season, but as a player, I mean, I think I would feel okay. I would feel okay playing, if I was healthy and ready to go. A lot of people have a lot of different opinions on this. It's hard to kind of pin it down and come to an agreement with it."

Our series Hometown Saints continues with a look at New Orleans Saints center Max Unger's family and his hometown of Hookena, Hawaii.

Photos by Marco Garcia

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