Interview with Saints beat writer Nick Underhill


5 min read
23 Sep
23Sep

Any Saints fan on twitter should know Nick Underhill, In my opinion he is unsurpassed when it comes to writing about the Saints, the level of detail he goes into in every article is unique and if you haven't already done so please click this link (Drew Brees Article) to read an astonishing article where Nick has watched every throw Drew Brees has made in his time as a Saint. Hope you enjoy reading this.


1. What made you get involved in covering football, was this always your aim?

I think so, when I first started out I started covering baseball and I did that for a year and I realised pretty quickly that wasn't what I wanted to do, its too much and baseball is kind of boring! Covering baseball did give me a more analytical style that I have brought over to football and being able to break down the game, the statistics and understanding why things are happening. There are some places out there like PFF where you can get the stats but if you want to put in the work you can really stand out that way and that's what I really like about covering football, my curiosities and the things I want to figure out and what I want to know and can dig into that and the deeper I go the more it differentiates my work. The willingness to go to that level of detail can really go a long way in covering football. 

I would say its definitely my aim. I covered the Boston Celtics for a while and that was cool but football suits me, the never ending quest as there is always going to be layers of the game and more things to peel back and learn and after covering the NFL for 9 seasons i'm still only scratching the surface, there are still a lot of things I don't know and don't understand. That's the way I approach the job, learn things and then present the things that I learn in a way that other people can learn and understand them too. 

There is never going to be a point where I get to the end and there is nothing left to do, that's a good thing for me as i'm either into something or I'm not and as soon as I'm not into it that's it, I cant see that ever happening with football as there will always be new things to learn.

2. I loved your article on Drew Brees prior to the season, how long did it take to watch every throw and to finish the article?

The deal with that is Brees is coming up on the yards record and i wanted to find a new way to talk about him and have a new story to tell and if you think about it there aren't any new stories to tell, just different ways to tell the stories we already know. So for me, I came in here in 2014 and I realised there was a lot of stuff that happened before then that I didn't know and I wanted to know. 

I was asked a question by someone about 20 yard out routes thrown by Brees and I had no idea how many 20 yard out routes he had thrown, I knew it hadn't been a lot since 2014 but was he hitting that throw before then. It was then i decided to answer that question and the only way to do it was to watch every pass he has thrown as a Saint and then break it down and figure out how he has gotten to the cusp of breaking the passing yards record. I think it turned out OK, there are things I would like to have done better with the story but I think that's the case with all stories. A story of this size, I don't think you ever get to the point of finishing it, you get to the point where you cant do anymore on it and you have to put it out there and see how people react to it and thankfully people really liked the story and what I did. 

It took me about the summer off and on, a lot of hours, the hardest part was probably tracking down all the games because prior to the 2009 season those aren't online, thankfully Saints fans love this team an unbelievable amount and they were super helpful in helping me piece together the games from 2006 to 2008 so without them I definitely couldn't have done that story.

3. You covered the Patriots before moving to the Saints, is there much of a difference between the two organisations?

I think there is, there are a lot of differences but some similarities too in that they both come from the Bill Parcells tree. The way they do things you see some similarities in the way they talk about things but I think Sean Payton is a lot more friendly than Bill Belichick, I know Sean has a reputation but if you come to him and want to learn about the game and ask him things about football he answers those things and if you listen to him you can learn a lot about this game, I have learned a ton just talking to him and asking questions, being curious and I think he likes that and respects the quest for knowledge and if you approach him the right way he is a great resource to have

4. You are lucky enough to have watched Tom Brady and Drew Brees up close, what other players have you enjoyed watching and covering?

There have been so many, Randy Moss was definitely one, he was only there for four games the first year I covered the Patriots but in one of those first four games he had an amazing one handed catch over Darrelle Revis in New York in week 2 of that season and its an iconic catch and play but he was traded soon after but he was a fun one to watch, covering him was challenging, he didn't have a ton of care for the media which is fine, Revis is another one who was brief, he was in New England just before i moved to cover the Saints that summer but was fun to watch up close. 

Aqib Talib was also at the Patriots and it was the first time for me covering a shut down corner and he was amazing in the first year they got him he turned things around a little bit there for that defence, really fun to cover and watch. 

Vince Wilfork was another, 

Rob Gronkowski, just a super unique guy on and off the field. 

Now the guys here, Marshon Lattimore, watching him last year was incredible. 

Alvin Kamara, possibly one of the most unique talents that I have seen so far covering the league and going forward has a very good chance of remaining that type of player. 

Cam Jordan is an amazing guy to watch. 

I caught him at the end of his career but Marques Colston was still doing a lot of really savvy things those last few years and I was fortunate enough to watch him, going back to Brees article, it was eye opening to see how good he really was on a week to week basis throughout his career, he was a really really good player. 

Devin McCourtey the Patriots safety was really good and Marcus WIlliams has a chance to be a really good player if he keep ascending the right way. Other than that, Brees and Brady, there have been some really good players, I'm probably forgetting some somewhere along the way that have been great to watch but both these teams have had a lot of really great players come through the doors during my time there.


5. Who has been your favourite player or coach to talk to/interview in your career so far?

It's been Kenny Vacarro, he is a guy that really loves football and talking about it and the way I cover the team he was a great resource and another guy I learned a huge amount from, he was willing to sit there and help you figure things out and explain why things are happening, there was a trust factor there between me and him and it really helped me a lot during his time here. Zach Strief was another one and thankfully for Saints fans he is still around and they are able to hear him on the radio and doing his TV stuff but those two guys as far as learning about the game have been great guys to have around.


6. Are there any players past or present who you haven't enjoyed talking to/interviewing? 

No comment! There are definitely some but no names!


7. Where does Drew Brees rank in the list of best ever QB's in the NFL in your opinion?

He is definitely a top 5 guy, it is really difficult to compare across eras. You talk about Joe Montana but he wasn't playing the same game these guys are playing now and its tough to compare. 

A better way to go about it is by era and I think its currently Brady and Brees, Payton Manning is in there somewhere too. The only thing that hurts Brees is that he doesn't have that second ring, if he had a second or third ring the conversation shifts a little bit more in his favour, its not his fault, its just the way we look at things and when things are close the rings become the tie breaker, Tom Brady has a ton of rings and Brees has one, that's fine and fair but however you want to order your top 5 I have no problem with it. He is in the mix and if he can get one more ring along with all the records that will help his case a lot


8. After two weeks of the season do you think the Saints have the talent and coaching to still have Super Bowl aspirations this season?

I think that its still wide open for them, its too early in the season to judge, when you look at a team so closely and see a rough start the natural inclination is to freak out, take the Steelers for example, they have an 0-1-1 record and I'm sure their fans are freaking out about the season so far but me sat here in New Orleans is thinking they will figure it out, its a mess with Le'veon Bell at the moment but if they can keep afloat until he comes back they can turn it around but at the moment that team is in disarray but from afar they have the talent and can turn it around and figure it out, they are probably going to be OK but the people close to the team will be freaking out. I say that just to say that even though the Saints in two games both sides of the ball have had a very bad game, at some point the talent is going to click and they are going to figure it out and be in the mix and everything is going to be fine, they have to keep their head above the water whilst they are figuring it out and if they can do that everything can still work out how they want it to, I don't think the Saints we are seeing now will be the Saints we see at Christmas, I think they will get everything going and they will be a great team, they have a lot of talent and those aspirations are still there and you don't kill them in September, if they are still having the up and down performances in November then it will be a huge concern. Getting Mark Ingram back will help.


9. You came to London with the Saints last year, were you surprised by the passion the UK and European fans had for the NFL and particularly the size of the following for the Saints?

I was blown away by just how many NFL fans there were in general the whole time I was in London, there were jerseys everywhere, we got off the train at Wembley and there was just a sea of various NFL jerseys going into the stadium three or fours hours before the game, it was nuts, you just don't see that here, just the wave of people around the stadium so early, its not like that in any NFL stadium in America, it was crazy. Saints fans everywhere, both local and from New Orleans, it was a crazy week and an amazing experience, I hope they go back soon, Saints probably wont be selected again for a while but it was amazing and I would love to go back over there.


10. Do you think the International Series games in London will eventually lead to a franchise moving over here?

It seems like the NFL really wants a team over there, i don't know logistically how that will work, I think it would be tough for that team to sign free agents, it would be really hard to figure all that out, I hope they do because it was awesome over there and growing the game will be better for football, hopefully they do and hopefully the Saints play them early on because I want to go back over there as soon as possible.


11. Do you support an NFL team and if so are you allowed to tell us? 

Tottenham Hotspur. NFL team? Honestly when you cover the game and work with the data and watch the players its hard to be a fan of any team, I'm a fan of the game in general. Really Spurs are the only team in any sport I am really a fan of, I know they haven't won in the last three games (before the Brighton game yesterday!), they should have won the Champions League game, I don't know how they blew that one but they will bounce back.


As you can see from the interview, even answering questions Nick goes into so much detail, We cant thank him enough for agreeing to do this for us. I hope the UK and European Saints fans enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed talking to Nick and putting the interview together. 

Please, if your not already give him a follow on twitter (@nick_underhill) and also head to the links page on this website for the link to his excellent podcast with Kevin Washington.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and as always, any comments please add them below!

WHODAT!!!
James

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