You got a good Jeff Charleston story we can share?
"Yeah, sure I do. Jeff Charleston, the morning after the Super Bowl when we were boarding the buses to fly back to New Orleans, which look, that was a late night. All those guys, that party goes pretty late and everyone's kind of tired and groggy. Jeff Charleston, I'll never forget, Jeff Charleston showed up to the bus wearing just a robe. He didn't have anything else on. They had given us these robes with our names and numbers on them, like from the jerseys and Jeff Charleston wore that on the plane ride home. I don't know why, or the purpose, but I do remember that Jeff was still wearing that and we all got a good laugh out of it."
I can't believe we're starting the whole week off with that story. That's unbelievable.
"Yeah, that's a very distinctive memory for me of Jeff Charleston."
Oh my goodness, more on what happened five years ago, but I do want to start our conversation off with what happened yesterday. What was your take away from Super Bowl 49 and the Patriots winning yesterday?
"It was a great game. I think both those teams showed a lot of mental toughness. I think New England jumped out early. I think that Seattle came back really strong. I think, I was even talking to my dad this morning, it got to halftime and it felt like New England was kind of dominating that game and it was tied. And I was like umm that's not good, that's not a good thing for them and I know Seattle is a very strong second half team and has been for some time. So I really thought, you know, this is the perseverance and mental toughness that New England showed last night. Obviously, coming up with a big play with their backs against the wall and that's usually what that game is about – who's going make that play in the biggest moment. It was exciting. It was fun to watch."
Be honest – what did you do when Russell Wilson stepped forward to throw the football on second down there?
"Well, you know, I understand the confusion, and the second-guessing. And you know the reality is Tom Brady's touchdown was on second down and four and LeGarrette Blount had been running the ball really well, breaking tackles and they threw the ball, scored a touchdown on it. And no one thinks second and you know at the end of the day I think they picked a play they thought was advantageous to them and I think that guy made an incredible read and break on the ball and made a huge play, you know. It's very easy after the fact to say you should have run it and you know maybe they should have and maybe they feel they should today but I have a hard time second-guessing play-calling especially on a stage like that."
I guess I'm a little surprised, seeing as you're an offensive lineman and you guys like to get in front of big back like Marshawn Lynch.
"I understand that and I do, and yet I've been in a system for nine years now where, you know, we've got a guy back there that we trust and we're going put him in position in big games so I'm used to that kind of feeling of you know in a big moment, using the quarter back to try to make a play and look – you score a touchdown there and the narrative today is how great Russell Wilson is, how he did so great in that game and you know, easy to second guess. To be honest with you, it sure made for an exciting ending."
There's no doubt about that and surprisingly too. Was there anything else that surprised you, Zach from your standpoint from yesterday's game? Anything that kind of jumped out at you a little bit?
"You know, not necessarily, I think both teams kind of did what they do, so obviously I think that the Patriots relied heavily on Brady and he came up big for them and had a huge game and, you know, broke, I think, Drew's record for most completions in a Super Bowl and, you know, Seattle ran the ball really well, really stuck with that and really consistent, and there were some big plays and turnovers and it's kind of what you expected, personally. Now, if there's something you don't expect, it's for an undrafted free agent rookie to make the biggest play of his life in the biggest moment imaginable. That to me is the surprise in the game. Just, who stepped up and made that play – to see kind of the emotions that we had I think kind of explained and described the emotions I would go through after making a play like that."
Do you watch the Super Bowl different now than you did pre-five years ago, Zach?
"Yeah, I think knowing what it is makes it harder to watch. I think before you've been in it, you don't know what you're missing until you've experienced it and to be honest with you, the game itself I kind of watched and didn't watch. It wasn't something I was really focused in on the whole game, and yet, for some reason I found myself sitting down and watching the ceremony after the game – the presentations. You know, I think that's really where that rush of emotions comes from. The game feels so much like a game when you're in it, but that moment afterward, the confetti, the families down on the field, all those things that come with winning that game. Those were really kind of the rushes that come back to me from that experience."
Do you remember that vividly or is it a blur?
"No, I remember it very vividly. I remember everyone I took pictures with. I remember seeing my dad's face, running out on the field and I remember the locker room. I really very vividly remember that."
You started off with the Jeff Charleston robe story, so it may be hard to top that. Other than that moment at the end of the game that you described, I guess when people ask you the question that I'm about to ask you, what is the answer? And the question would be this: what story do you think you find relating the most about Super Bowl XLIV at this point?
"You know, it's an interesting game. So many other games as an athlete you play, and as much as you think of your family, they're obviously, my family has always been very supportive and been around. I think, to me, the thing that I remember more than anything is sharing that with them afterward. And the excitement – it's like you don't just achieve it for yourself, or your team, or your city, you achieve it for everyone that you've ever known. And that's really the way that that feels after the game and anyone that has ever had any connection to you feels a sense of pride and that's a very special thing to share. I mean, going back to your hometown after that, seeing how excited people are and seeing your picture up in restaurants that you used to eat at and, you know, it's amazing the feeling and the scale of that game and the importance in America anymore, with that game and those are the things that honestly, that stick out more than anything. I mean, the game itself, in the middle of the game, feels very much like the last game. You know, obviously there are moments when you realize you're going to win before you pick the ball off, that game no longer feels normal anymore, but it's really those moments that I shared with my family, after the game that really stick in my memory – the kind of feeling of sharing that with all of the people that have had their hands in getting me to that moment."
You talk about going back to your hometown, and I can't help but think of the NFL when you tell a story like that. You know, the NHL Stanley Cup champion, each guy gets to take the Stanley Cup for a day and the stories that come out of that are pretty unbelievable. Were you able to do anything with the Lombardi Trophy that (a) you can share or (b) that's worth sharing, I guess?
"No and actually, I remember Coach Payton saying, I want to do that and I want to give this to everybody for a day. There was something that did not allow that. I personally, to me that is one of the greatest traditions in sports – something I think every league should emulate, because you're right, there are so many great stories that come out of it, and again, like I said, there are a lot of people that have their hands in getting you to that position and I think anyone with any humility realizes they didn't do it alone. And so, to be able to share that with people and be able to give them that opportunity, to see that, and touch it, and be up close with it, I think would be a great way for really all sports leagues to kind of handle that. I unfortunately didn't and to be honest with you, that trophy seems to stay in the hands of people far more important than me for a while so I don't have any great stories about my involvement with it after the fact, but, you know, still very special thing to have memories of."
Fair enough, I think that's very fair. Zach, a lot of the guys that will talk to us this week are either no longer playing football or are no longer with the Saints. You have the unique perspective as our guest today, to speak of being a Super Bowl champion, but also still on the Saints current roster as a starter and as a captain and I'm curious as to the perspective that's given you, in being in that spot?
"I think, for one, it gives you a very different drive and a different desire, because I have experienced it and I have been a part of a Super Bowl parade and I have come back to New Orleans and seen the excitement that it brought to the city. And there are a few, I mean, Marques (Colston), Pierre (Thomas), and Jahri (Evans), and you know Drew and those guys that were there, to share that experience to try and explain how great of a deal that is to motivate guys to get back there. Like I said, it's more of a career achievement thought than where you've been. It's something that you want to do, a feather in your cap, it's something that you thought like that would be a neat thing to do in my career and yet, once you've been there, you realize it's so much more than that and I think it's on us, guys that were there, and are still here to try and share those experiences to get guys to understand just what a big deal it is and just how much work it takes and the type of dedication and attention to detail it takes to be able to go back and do it again. It's, you know, like I said it's hard to watch when you've been and you know what those guys are feeling and it's very difficult to see it and not be a part of it, so that's kind of what I take out of it and that's the difference in perspective that I have. I'm still chasing that feeling and once you know that feeling, you know that it's very worth chasing."
And with that being said, Zach; how long does a team, whether it be the Saints, or New England or anybody else – how long, in hindsight now, does a team, I guess continue and say, "well that's the way we did it and we won it all"? And at what point do you have to chart a new course, or do you – is there a balance? That's what I'm trying to figure out.
"Well there are things that are different every year, there are things on every team that are different and that's more of a personnel and, you know, how you're attacking your schemes. Those things change every year, because the teams are different. I think that what it takes to get there never changes. I think it takes tremendous dedication. I think it takes finding the right people, who are selfless enough, to make the sacrifices that are necessary, to be that great of a team and, you know, those things – doing little things right, again I keep saying attention to detail. The mind-set and the mental toughness and fortitude that is required to play at that level through an entire season and make it to that game, I think it's the same every year. The team's that do it are all the same, basically. They have all of those attributes and, you know, the other stuff, the scheming stuff, I feel like is always okay, it's always good enough. And honestly, it's the easiest thing to change, what you're doing and how you're doing it. What's hard is getting 53 guys and really by the end of the year it's probably like 65 guys, when it's all said and done, that have that same mental fortitude, to have that type of discipline for a full season and that doesn't change."
Photos from the New Orleans Saints Super Bowl XLIV parade. Photos taken by Michael C. Hebert (New Orleans Saints photos)