September 25, 2006.
This is one of my favorite sports moments of all time, and it happened 14 years ago today. The day Steve Gleason blocked the punt.
In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina came ripping through the Gulf Coast. The large Category 5 hurricane caused 1,836 deaths and $125 billion in damage, most notably to the city of New Orleans and the surrounding areas. The storm surge caused approximately 23 breaches in the drainage canals, navigational canals, levees, and flood walls, which left roughly 80% of the city flooded. Some areas were under 15 feet of water.
For people who had not evacuated the city, the Superdome served as a shelter to house and support those in need. Two major sections of the roof were compromised because of the storm, and the dome’s waterproof membrane was essentially peeled off.
Because of the damage to the Superdome, the Saints were not able to play any home games in New Orleans for the 2005 NFL season. The team established temporary headquarters and practice facilities in San Antonio, and finding a place for Saints homes games proved to be difficult. As the Superdome was unavailable, the team ended up playing four home games at LSU’s Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, three at the Alamodome in San Antonio, and one at Giants Stadium in New York.
The NFL announced on February 5, 2006 that the league would return to the city of New Orleans on September 25, as the Saints would host their division rival Atlanta Falcons at the Superdome on Monday Night Football.
The Saints were back, and New Orleans was ready. Having lived in New Orleans, I can tell you that it is pretty much impossible to live in that town and not be a Saints fan. The passion and energy in that city surrounding the Saints is infectious, and very fun to be a part of. The fans were more than ready to have football back in their city.
This is when one of my favorite sports memories occurred. Steve Gleason blocking the punt. Watch:
For nearly a minute after the block, the television broadcasters remained silent, as 75,000 Saints fans gave their city back its voice.
It was more than just a punt block, more than just a touchdown, and more than just a football game. The moment became known as “The Rebirth of New Orleans.”
Steve’s story did not end here, and in fact, it was just getting started.
In 2011, Gleason was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease). Today, he relies on machines and computers in order to breathe and communicate. Check out his story below:
Just incredible stuff.
I was 11 and living in Ohio at the time of his famous block, and I remember watching the game clear as day. I don’t really know how or why I remember watching it so distinctly. I think it’s just one of those sports moments that sticks with you. But it kinda came full circle for me in the fall of 2017 when I moved to New Orleans for graduate school at Tulane University, and to be a Graduate Assistant within the athletic department. Shortly after I arrived in New Orleans, I was fortunate enough to hear Gleason speak on campus when he came to speak to all of the Tulane athletic teams at McAlister Auditorium.
Hearing him talk about his life and his journey in person was incredibly humbling and inspiring. He has a phenomenal sense of humor, and hearing him talk about the joy that he has in his life really puts things in perspective.
His organization, Team Gleason, has provided over $10 million in adventure, technology, equipment, and care services to over 15,000 people living with ALS and countless others through advocacy, support and ultimately bringing an end to the disease. He was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in 2019 for his contributions to ALS awareness, and in 2012 the statue “Rebirth” was built and sits right outside the Superdome.
Today, roughly nine years after his diagnosis, Gleason continues his joyous life with wife Michel, son Rivers, and daughter Gray.
His block signified the rebirth of a city, and his story signifies loving life and having gratitude no matter the circumstances. He is truly an inspiration for us all.
I feel purposeful and fulfilled with where I am. I’m excited about what is ahead. There were days in the past when I was so frustrated and hopeless. I felt death might be a welcome alternative to this life. Those hopeless days are behind me. I love my life. -Steve Gleason
Title Photo: Getty Images