Many NFL fans may not know or remember Steve Gleason. After all, he was a eight year veteran that largely played on special teams and had only 65 tackles in his NFL career from 2000-2007. However, if you ask any New Orleans Saints fan about the most memorable play in franchise history, you won’t hear the name Tom Dempsey, you won’t hear the name River City Relay, you won’t hear the names of Archie Manning, Rickey Jackson, Drew Brees, or Reggie Bush. You won’t even hear the name Tracy Porter, who had the game clinching pick six in the Super Bowl. Instead, it’s very likely that you’ll hear the name Steve Gleason.
Five years and one day ago, the most emotional NFL game in league history happened at the Superdome in New Orleans. It was September 25, 2006 – the Saints’ first home game since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. In the 2005 season, the Saints had split home games between Baton Rouge and San Antonio. There were rumblings that New Orleans would no longer have a football team thanks to the storm. The comeback to the Dome in 2006 was much more than a team returning home from an exodus period – it was a sign to the country that New Orleans was on its way back as a city.
On that night, it was a long haired special teams player that became a cult hero for Saints fans. Steve Gleason was etched into Saints history forever with this punt block in the first two minutes of the game…
“Steve’s blocked punt might be the most significant play in the history of this organization. If you have a chance to be around him and know him, he makes you a better person.” – Drew Brees
Gleason’s block, recovered by Curtis Deloatch in the endzone, produced a roar not just in New Orleans but around the nation. The blocked punt happened so early in the game, it was clearly a divine sign that the Saints, and New Orleans, were on their way back. New Orleans went on to win that Monday Night game against Atlanta and Gleason’s block became the signature play. If one wants to connect the dots in a big picture sort of way, the Saints’ Super Bowl journey began with Steve Gleason’s blocked punt.
Even though he didn’t do much else of substance on the field for the Saints, he will always be cemented in NFL lore for that blocked punt. Perhaps that’s why the news that Gleason was recently diagnosed with ALS was so heartbreaking…
On September 23rd, the former Saint went public with his diagnosis. The 34 year old is now faced with a disease that will end his life painfully, and decades too soon. Gleason is already seeing his body feel the effects of the uncureable Lou Gehrig’s Disease as talking, walking, and eating become more difficult. It is truly an incomprehensible tragedy. But, as Gleason provided inspiration to millions that Monday night, he will hope to provide inspiration to millions more as he takes his battle with ALS public.
“It’s easy to start questioning whether God has this plan and why the plan would include me getting diagnosed with this disease… And that’s when you can start why-ing yourself to death. More than that, I’ve thought, what does this mean, how does this help me fulfill my purpose in life? If we have a purpose in life beyond being a cog in the human machine, mine is to help inspire people and that’s pretty cool. I would like to motivate the world.” - Steve Gleason
“He’s an inspiration to all of us, that whole locker room. It was great to see him around and involved. He spoke to our team (Saturday) night and did an outstanding job. We gave him a game ball today afterward. It’s tough.” - Sean Payton
Gleason was at the Superdome on Sunday to commemorate the heroics of his blocked punt five years ago. The Saints won a thrilling game against the Houston Texans 40-33 with Gleason in attendance. He gave a pep talk to the team, served as honorary captain, and led the Superdome crowd in their customary “Who Dat” chat before kickoff…
“It was very emotional… You see a guy playing in the NFL at the height of his physical ability when he can do just about anything, and to see him now, it was very sad for all of us who know him. He’s such a great guy. He was always willing to help others and encourage young guys no matter what happened. He was always a guy who overcame everything no matter what happened. We are praying that he overcomes this.” – Will Smith
Gleason has already started Team Gleason, a website that will hope to bring his fight against ALS to light through advancing studies and treatment of the disease and bringing others along with his journey. However large the impact of that blocked punt in the scope of the Saints franchise and NFL history, Gleason’s impact in the years after his pro football career will be much more meaningful and significant.
“Especially here in New Orleans, most of the people that my child will encounter, if I’m not here, will say, ‘You’re dad was amazing and he had this great football career, he was a hero for the city,’ and almost in a sense build kind of a mythical image of me… So what I’ve tried to do is sit down and really explain some of the struggles I’ve gone through and the less desirable parts of myself. … I want them to know I went through a lot of the same things they went through. And I’ve had to go through one of the hardest things a person can go through, but hopefully shown the courage and grace and joy you can still have despite these circumstances.” – Steve Gleason