Saints honor ALS-stricken Gleason

Saints honor ALS-stricken Gleason with emotional ceremony

What a strange game Monday night. How does a team win a game against an unbeaten foe when the team scores no touchdowns, fumbles six times and relies on a neophyte kicker who shanked a 21-yard field goal attempt a couple of weeks earlier? That’s why they play the games, I guess. Dan Bailey’s six field goals beat Washington 18-16.

The takeaway, for me, is that the Cowboys have taken to Rob Ryan’s defense well, and as the season goes on, I think the duo of DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer is going to wreak as much havoc as any other pass-rush combination in the NFL.

Because of his eccentric personality and fearless play, Steve Gleason became a fan favorite in New Orleans.

But this morning I’d like to give a little bit of attention to something that happened in New Orleans Monday night. The Saints gave a player who last played for them in 2007, safety and special-teamer Steve Gleason, a 2009 Super Bowl ring in an emotional ceremony at a New Orleans restaurant.

Gleason, you may recall, is the special-teamer who burst through the middle of the Atlanta line on a first-quarter punt in the first post-Katrina game the Saints played in the Superdome — the very emotional first game, you’ll recall, five years ago — and blocked the punt for a touchdown. The frenzy kept feeding all night, and the Saints had a stunning first victory. It’s been called one of the most important single plays in the history of the Saints, and I don’t think that’s any exaggeration. The Saints all acknowledge this, as does Sean Payton: That was a team of misfits and players other teams didn’t want, and that 2006 team built the base for the 2009 championship team.

You may know that Gleason, in a story written eloquently by Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, disclosed to the world Sunday that he has Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS, a debilitating neuromuscular malady for which there is no cure. It usually strikes men in middle age. Gleason is 34. Though there is thought to be some connection between playing football and getting the disease, it’s still something doctors are studying.

For now, I wanted to point out Gleason’s story, because I’ll be trying to help his foundation,, raise awareness for his case, and for his cause. Look for an announcement of something you can help support in the coming weeks.

But Monday …

The Saints’ players and coaches have been emotional about Gleason’s disease since hearing about it. Monday night, Payton showed up at the surprise event for Gleason and recounted how he was a perfect metaphor for the Saints when Payton took the head-coaching job in 2006. He recalled how, in a summer team-building and -bonding paintball game, it was Gleason who eliminated him with a well-placed shot. At the time, Payton barely knew who the diminutive overachieving safety from Washington State was. “I thought he was one of the equipment interns,” Payton quipped. But his emotional speech last night showed how valuable Gleason had been to the team when the Saints were coming back from Katrina and becoming national heroes.

“Steve had been waiting his whole life for this one perfect moment,” Payton told the crowd Monday night.

And now, his former teammates and current friends want to help Gleason through what will surely be a difficult rest of his life with ALS. With his wife holding the microphone last night because he was unable, Gleason told the crowd that, “ALS was [messing] with the wrong guy,” and urged his supporters to do meaningful things with their lives.

“It’s not about the blocked punt or the ring, it’s about what you’re gonna do when you walk out of this room,” he said.

Former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita, now with the Browns, was one of several former teammates who flew in from as far as Hawaii and San Diego to support Gleason. He will be part of the group at that tries to make some good out of something so bad. Stay tuned for more details in the coming weeks.
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Filed in: Press Room • Monday, October 17th, 2011

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Scott Fujita

Scott Fujita was born in Ventura, California on April 28, 1979. He was a three-sport standout at Rio Mesa High School in Oxnard, CA before heading to the University of California, Berkeley, where he graduated with Honors in Political Science and earned a Masters degree in Education.

Fujita has played in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns. Read more