By John Boyle
On Monday, the Seahawks will try to stay in the NFC driver’s seat when they host the New Orleans Saints. Today, however, on a day dedicated to giving thanks (well, football and gluttony too) let’s give thanks for a former Saints player, as well a man with Northwest ties, who has become an inspiration to anyone who has heard his story.
Steve Gleason, who grew up in Spokane, helped lead Washington State to a Rose Bowl, and he was the central figure in one of the most memorable plays in Saints history, a blocked punt in the team’s first game in the Superdome post-Katrina. But it’s in his life after football that Gleason is making a much bigger impact on this world, battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) with incredible courage, while also helping to bring attention and money to the fight against ALS.
“He’s such an inspiration,” said Saints quarterback Drew Brees. “I had the fortune to be able to play with him, and then obviously we’ve seen what he’s had to go through… You watch his daily battle, and you watch his attitude along the way, and it’s hard not to be inspired or to love Steve Gleason. So many people do around here, not just for what he meant to the team and of course that moment on Monday Night Football reopening the dome where he blocked a punt—I mean he’s got a statue outside of the stadium commemorating that event—but just for the type of person that he is and the way he continues to fight, and the influence he now has through his foundation Team Gleason, and really bring recognition and awareness to ALS unlike anybody has ever been able to. I think the difference that he’s making is remarkable, and there are so many people that support him, including myself.”
Brees in fact learned of Gleason’s ALS diagnosis while on his way to the stadium for New Orleans’ playoff game in Seattle three seasons ago.
“I was on the bus when I read my email and found out he had ALS,” he said. “That was the first time that I found out, and I think for me and for a lot of people when we read that, that’s one of those moments in your life where you can recall exactly where you were at that moment when you heard the news… I just sat there kind of dumbfounded and speechless and just emotional for a long period of time.”
You hopefully know Gleason’s story already, but if you don’t, now is a good time to catch up. Not only are the Saints coming to town Monday, but Gleason’s Cougars play Washington in the Apple Cup Friday. Throw in that Pearl Jam, a band Gleason long admired and has befriended during his battle with ALS, is in town next week, and this is a fitting time to honor an inspiring man.
If you want to learn more or donate to Gleason’s foundation, Team Gleason, you can do so here.
Also, the NFL Network did a very good documentary on Gleason that aired Tuesday. You can watch clips of it here at NFL.com.
And as I mentioned above, Gleason has formed a special bond with Pearl Jam, a topic ESPN covered in this must-watch feature earlier this fall.
So while Seahawks fans will understandably be rooting against the Saints Monday, everyone should be able to pull for one former Saint every week, including this one.