All the lights were out plunging the Superdome into an abyss of darkness and uncertainty. The New Orleans Superdome was battered and beaten by Hurricane Katrina just like the city she was surrounded by. Days passed and no one knew if they would ever come back, Saints included. The days were long and the pain palpable but, the residents of New Orleans alongside the Saints fought every inch of the way back home. That fight came to a head on September 25th 2006. If you’re a fan of the NFL, the New Orleans Saints, or even humanity you know exactly where you were on Sept. 25, 2006. That was the night the Superdome reopened her doors for the first time since Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. All seemed to balance of the edge of a great precipice as we all waited for something to reaffirm that all was for not and the result would be better days.
Thousands had poured themselves selflessly back into their flooded and battered city. They had worked tirelessly for long days in the heat and with little to go on but, a silent hope we all cautiously harbored. That night all of New Orleans and the Gulf South poured themselves into the Superdome. There were roughly 75,000 packed into the Superdome and a record-breaking millions of others watching on ESPN. We all waited hand in heart, hope in hand, praying, pleading waiting for that sign that this time it would be different. That this time our city, our heart, our home would do more than just rise from the ashes.
Then, it happened, with 13:35 on the clock in the 1st quarter Steve Gleason came unblocked straight up the middle of the Falcon’s offensive line and smothered Michael Koenen’s punt. The Superdome exploded into a frenzy never seen before. Our hearts and spirits soared to the sky’s limit. There are moments that transcend the games we play. This moment was one of them. At the center of this one moment in time is Steve Gleason. You would be hard pressed to find any other man who lives his life more as the embodiment of that single moment. Steve had created a charitable foundation called One Sweet World Foundation in 2003. One Sweet World Foundation focuses on two key issues that Steve is passionate about. Those two issues are literacy and environmentalism. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina Steve Gleason’s kicked off “Backpacks for Hope”. Backpacks for Hope is an effort to provide relief to young hurricane victims in the form of backpacks and school supplies. Backpacks was able to give close to $500,000 of relief to students, their families in the New Orleans and Gulf South areas affected by Katrina. While Gleason played he took time out from his family to visit patients at the New Orleans Children’s Hospital. Then out of nowhere Steve began showing symptoms of having ALS(though not known at the time) in the summer of 2010 with twitching in his shoulders and chest. In January 2011 the doctors confirmed what they thought, Steve Gleason had ALS.
What would Steve do? What would you do? How many would crumble under the weight of knowing that the end is closer and more palpable than ever? How would you take the news? How many of you would stop everything and commit all of yourself to family? The number I know is high without a doubt and no one would blame you. Steve Gleason did the exact opposite. Gleason created Team Gleason in 2011 and never looked back. In what is likely one of his darkest most uncertain moments of his life Steve stood up and shot back. “How many times have you been wrong before?”, asked Steve. “Not many” replied Steve’s doctor. But, if you know Steve then his resilient response to one of life’s greatest challenges wouldn’t come to anyone’s surprise. Gleason even in the battle for his life remains positive and upbeat.
This past Friday the New Orleans Saints unveiled their tribute to Steve Gleason’s city changing play. The statue stands as a 9 foot tall reminder that even in the most dire of circumstance that anything is possible. When Drew Brees addressed Gleason he had this to say
“In my 12 seasons I have had the blessing to play with great players and inspirational people. But none more than the guy your looking at right here, Steve Gleason. As a player, as a teammate and as a friend he encapsulates everything you would want in someone who you could look to for motivation, for inspiration and to lead you through the toughest times you would face….. That statue out there is a symbol of our rebirth, our resurrection, our resurgence of this city. There’s a saying I saw recently that made me think of Steve as soon as I saw it. The things you do for yourself only stays with you, but the things you do for others lives forever and Steve is a guy that no matter what the circumstances he is always thinking about doing for others… Everything he has done since being diagnosed with ALS just proves that so point even more.”
Steve Gleason is a champion in every sense of the word. In his biggest struggle of his life he looks towards other to inspire. He sets up foundations and refuses ALS to rob him of every ounce of life, snatching them from the jaws of defeat and into the arms of a brighter tomorrow. In his March 2012 interview with Spokane Washington’s KXLY4 news his voice and thoughts ring loud and true.
“My approach what can we do to help other people..and if it comes down to it when we need to help ourself that part will take care of itself. Early on I realized I had a platform for 40 to 50 thousand people who don’t have a platform. To me, it was my responsibility to speak out and try to provide a voice for those people. And at the same time I am passionate about it.”
In the depths of his struggle Gleason finds the strength from within to reach out to others. He finds the strength to smile and live his life. Though his body may be failing him, Steve finds the strength from inside to fight and give in every capacity he knows how. Steve Gleason’s body maybe afflicted with ALS but, his heart is as strong as ever.
Remember from this day forward that a champion isn’t made on the field or in practice but, in the most personal, gut checking moments of their lives. Steve Gleason’s block, his life, and his heart transcends time and space. While the statue of him will surely be there for ages to come, it’s Steve’s life, heart, and spirit that will weather any storm. While our tributes, handshakes, and hugs are poured over Steve, it’s us who stand to be honored. In the lengthy warm light of his smile we are all blessed to know Steve. Stadiums will crumble, records will fall, and players will retire. There are somethings more eternal than anything you can record on TV or in a record book. Hope, Love, Strength
In the quietness of the morning Steve awakes to live another day to the fullest. Live, Laugh, Love, Hope, Pray and Inspire. While the Rebirth statue is a wonderful tribute to Gleason it isn’t the best one we can build. The greatest tribute we can hold up to Steve isn’t a statue but, to live every day like he does. To the Fullest.
Never Give Up. No White Flags. Team Gleason