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odd journey to super bowl for morstead

New Orleans Saints punter Thomas Morstead has had a dream rookie season in the NFL, reaching the Super Bowl at the first attempt, but his journey to the big game began in the unlikely surrounds of a rugby field near Grimsby in England.

Morstead's mother Isobel hails from Beelsby, a tiny village in northeast Lincolnshire, and it was when her son was on one of his frequent trips to her birthplace that he began playing with an oval ball.

"Whenever I would go over there I would go with my cousins to rugby practices and play with them. That is where I first learned to kick a goofy shaped ball; my uncle taught me to drop kick," Morstead explained.

From learning to kick at Market Rasen and Louth RFC, as an 11-year-old boy, Morstead went on to enter the college system as a punter.

"That's how I earned my scholarship to college. I won a bet with the coach and kicked a 60-yard drop kick," he said.

His uncle, Welsh-born Charlie Salmon, remembers very well the day he took Morstead to practice. "He was over on holiday and I was coaching the young lads at Market Rasen and being a Welshman I thought I'd better teach my nephew how to kick properly.

"He got used to the oval ball there, he played one or two games when he was over for a three- or four-week period and he thoroughly enjoyed it," Salmon recalled.


"I must admit he did stand out a little bit, he kicked a little bit further but he got mad keen on it. It was difficult to get him to give up the ball and go and play the game rather than just kick it. But he's done pretty well out of it hasn't he?"

Morstead, who is a fan of English soccer club Grimsby Town and even spent a day training with the team a few years ago, certainly has profited from his uncle's lessons.

After impressing with his college, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, he was a fifth-round draft choice for the Saints, the second punter taken overall.

"I was blessed coming out of college, a lot of teams liked what I can do. I can kick the ball higher and longer than most. I got a great opportunity and I have performed well enough," he said.

Last month he helped the Saints to win their first NFC Championship game in a memorable victory over the Minnesota Vikings in a packed and deafening Louisiana Superdome.

Tomorrow's game will be for the ultimate prize in the NFL, but Morstead says it will be impossible to match the noise of that night.

"I don't think the atmosphere at this game will be what it was against the Vikings. It can't be. That was 99.9pc Saints fans in a dome, the noise is echoing, it was unbelievable," he said.

Far from the noise tomorrow, Salmon will gather with other members of Morstead's British family at midnight to watch the big game, still with some disbelief.

"I was driving home and listening to the radio going on about the Super Bowl being the biggest thing in America and I thought: 'Crikey, I know someone who is playing in it this year'," said Salmon.

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