Sean Payton may have missed the entirety of last season, but the New Orleans Saints coach made sure his first regular-season moment before the fans in 2013 was a special one.
Former Saints safety Steve Gleason joined Payton before Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons, and the two beloved New Orleans figures led the Mercedes-Benz Superdome crowd in one of the loudest pregame chants in the stadium's history.
The Saints' official Twitter feed sent out a Vine video of the electric moment:
Gleason, who served as a special teams player and safety in New Orleans from 2000 to 2007, is suffering through a well-publicized bout with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known to most as Lou Gehrig's Disease. He was diagnosed in 2011, three years after announcing his retirement from the NFL.
There is no cure at this time for ALS, which is a degenerative disease that eventually causes paralysis and other problems to the nervous system. Gleason has difficulty with tasks like speaking and eating.
The 36-year-old's name was in the press during the offseason after the staff at an Atlanta radio show was fired following a segment that made fun of Gleason's condition. The hosts used a computer speaking device to host an "interview" with Gleason, during which they made him say derogatory and insensitive things. Both apologized to Gleason, and he accepted the apology, while also using the incident as an opportunity to raise awareness of ALS, per ESPN:
"Defend Team Gleason" now has been officially redefined. Additionally, the DJs have provided genuine apology. Received and accepted. We have all made mistakes in this life. How we learn from our mistakes is the measure of who we are.
I think everyone can learn from this event. Its clear to me that, on a national & global scale, ALS is not understood, which is part of why its under funded and largely ignored. In the past 36 hours lots of people have been talking. Lets talk about this... There are zero treatments for ALS. If you take any action as a result of this event, I prefer it to be action to end ALS.
Payton is in his first regular-season game back as head coach, having served a one-year suspension for his role in the Saints' Bountygate scandal. The Saints suffered through a frustrating 7-9 season without their head coach, setting multiple records for defensive futility. It was the first time since 2008 that New Orleans missed the playoffs.
Gleason is no stranger to helping Saints fans recover from a trying time. In an emotional moment in New Orleans, he blocked the punt of Falcons punter Michael Koenen in the first quarter of the Saints' first game back at the Superdome post-Hurricane Katrina in 2006. Curtis Deloatch recovered the fumble and returned it for a touchdown, the moment becoming a symbol of New Orleans' recovery from the natural tragedy.
Since leaving the NFL in 2008, Gleason's relationship with the Saints franchise has only continued to grow. He's been brought back multiple times by the organization for appearances and even announced the club's first 2013 third-round pick, offensive tackle Terron Armstead. He's also become a staunch advocate of ALS research.
The Saints erected a statue of Gleason's blocked punt outside the Superdome in 2012. It's titled "Rebirth."
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