Saints punter Thomas Morstead's âWhat You Give Will Growâ Foundation raised money for the Childrenâs Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.
MINNEAPOLIS –What started as a last-ditch effort to stop an opponent from getting to the end zone has now become a joint effort by two unlikely partners for an even larger cause.
During the Divisional round playoff game at U.S. Bank Stadium on Jan. 14, Saints punter Thomas Morstead was forced to tackle Marcus Sherels to prohibit a return for a touchdown, and Morstead cracked a rib in the process.
Morstead played through the injury, however. He even was the first New Orleans player to return to the field for the mandatory extra point attempt following the "Minneapolis Miracle" that advanced Minnesota to the NFC Championship game.
As a response of appreciation and respect for Morstead's sportsmanship, Vikings fans began donating to his foundation, "What You Give Will Grow."* *As awareness of the movement increased, so did the number of donations. Morstead, blown away by the generosity of an opposing fan base, said that he would return all money raised back to Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.
If the total reached $100,000, Morstead promised, he would return to Minneapolis during the week of Super Bowl LII and make a personal check presentation.
Fans – with an additional gift of $10,000 from Love Your Melon, and a combination gift from the Saints and Vikings – more than doubled the original goal.
Morstead delivered on his commitment, traveling with his wife to Minneapolis for a press conference Friday to present a check for $221,143.
And who else did he invite to the big event? Sherels, of course.
"I'm much more comfortable on the football field – except for when I'm playing this guy," Morstead quipped, nodding in Sherels' direction. "I'd like to just acknowledge Mr. Marcus Sherels is here – he's the guy who cracked my rib.
"I know a lot of Vikings fans all really appreciate him and love him being part of the team. He's obviously a local kid, and I think that's a really cool story, and I appreciate you being here," Morstead added.
The punter then put all joking aside, however, and grew noticeably emotional.
"It's really cool to play on Sundays and cool for people to say, 'Man, my friend plays for the Saints,' or, 'My family member plays for the Saints. I get to come to New Orleans and do all the fun things.' But something like this feels so impactful. It's just very humbling," Morstead said.
He went on to emphasize that the money will go directly to support the Child Life program at the children's hospital. Morstead first came to understand the impact of Child Life from a friend of his who passed away after an eight-year battle with osteosarcoma.
"He would always talk to me about Child Life and how special the Child Life specialists were to him and his friends. They're like angels that look after these kids," Morstead said. "There's like a protection. But he just said it was so underfunded everywhere you go."
According to Morstead, he and his foundation have had more "Child Life" mentions online in the past three weeks than in the previous five years.
"I just think the opportunity to highlight what Child Life is and why it's important is so huge," Morstead said. "Because you don't know about it until your kid's in the hospital."
Morstead mentioned a couple of times how he was impressed by the way the entire chain of events "just happened organically" and that he was thrilled to see it all come full circle.
He gave a shout-out to Love Your Melon, a company he hadn't been familiar with until he read about its hats and its mission following the $10,000 contribution early on in the fundraiser. The program's concept made Morstead think of his grandmother, who passed away last summer.
"For her whole life, she's knitted thousands and thousands and thousands of caps for kids who don't have them … and her favorite color is purple," Morstead said, his voice cracking. "And we started our season in Minnesota, and we ended it in Minnesota, and it just kind of seems fitting that that would be the case."
Added Morstead: "Part of this check will be in memory of her, and I think of anything I've been a part of, she would be most proud of this."
Morstead presented the check to Children's Chief Executive Officer Dr. Marc Gorelick.
"This is from my foundation, but really this is from like 6,000 Minnesot-ians and – I don't even know if I said that right," Morstead laughed, glancing at Sherels. "This is from SKOL Nation, I think."
Dr. Gorelick accepted the gift with a promise back to Morstead that the funds will be used to continue bolstering the hospital's Child Life program.
"It's so clear that your passion for this and your devotion to this cause is incredible," Gorelick told Morstead. "This is a gift that's going to go and it's going to make a difference in the lives of the most amazing people on Earth, which are our kids."
As if the donation wasn't a big enough gesture, Morstead had a couple more surprises up his sleeve for his visit to the Bold North. The punter told media members on Friday that he was treating a fourth-grade class from Detroit Lakes to an afternoon with him at Super Bowl Experience.
In addition, Morstead helped Sherels and the Vikings surprise Devyn, a young patient at Children's.
In 2009, Devyn's father was tragically killed in the Fort Hood shooting. And now recently, Devyn underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor. The young boy was able to meet Sherels and sat with him during the press conference.
Morstead invited the pair up to the front of the room, and he and Sherels gifted Devyn and his family with tickets to Super Bowl LII, courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings Foundation.
"It means a great deal," said Devyn's mother, Shoua. "We've just gone through so much the past few months, and we were starting to feel kind of hopeless. We're glad that Devyn has recovered really fast, and the cherry on top is the Super Bowl tickets. We're really excited, and I know Devyn's excited. We're just thankful for everything."
Sherels expressed how grateful he was to have been included in a unique and special opportunity and said he was impressed by Morstead's generosity as well as that of Vikings fans.
"He had a really nice tackle on me, and unfortunately he got hurt from it. But look what came of it. He's a great person, and what he's doing not only for his foundation but for the Minnesota Children's Hospital is amazing," said Sherels, who added that it means a lot to him to see Minnesotans respond in such a large way. "I'm from Minnesota, and it makes it that much more special. We have a great support [system] up here – not only for the Vikings but [in other areas], as well, and it shows."
As the press conference concluded, Morstead left a parting message to the "rival" team that he now feels connected to.
"I just have to say one more thing. I know the teams are all supposed to be ravenous and hate each other," Morstead said. "But dealing with the Minnesota Vikings organization has been totally first-class, in every way.
"It's just been awesome. They've been fantastic," Morstead continued. "So I just wanted to say thank you to the organization for supporting [this initiative]. I don't know if everybody in New Orleans echoes my sentiment, but I was pulling for you guys two weeks ago. We will be back next fall to play another away game – three in a row – so I can't say I'll be pulling for you all that night, but I'll be excited to come back up here, and maybe we'll come up with a new fundraiser by then."