Saints wide receiver/kickoff returner/special teams gunner Courtney Roby sprinted down the field, looking to make a special teams play against the Cleveland Browns on October 24, 2010. He was shoved out of bounds, colliding head on with Al Nastasi Jr., a member of the Saints chain crew. Nastasi was carted off the field on a stretcher and taken to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a concussion.
After an accident like that, most people would take a step away from the sidelines. Nastasi wasn't like most people. Shortly after recovering, he was back on the Caesars Superdome turf.
"Football is a sport, but life is precious," Roby said after the collision.
Nastasi, who spent more than 40 years on the chain crew, passed away on July 11 at 80 years old after a battle with cancer.
Nastasi worked the sidelines of the Superdome and Tulane Stadium for over four decades, working multiple Super Bowls. He received the Joe Giamelli Fleur de Lis Award in 2014, which is given each year to a member of the New Orleans Saints who has contributed to the betterment of the organization and supported the franchise. Originally, the award was going to honor only Tony Piazza, who served on the chain gang with Nastasi, but Piazza made sure his co-worker and friend received the recognition he deserved.
"It was a good thing, well deserved," said Ronnie Kornick, a member of the chain crew with Nastasi and the current head of the group. "The guy put in his time, paid his dues and he was recognized for it."
Nastasi began his role as a chain crew member in 1968. Piazza said he paid attention to every minute detail, calling him very thorough. The group was close knit from the start, often carpooling to the games together on Sundays and stay late while the fans filed out of either Tulane Stadium or the Superdome.
"Al was always fun to be around," Kornick said. "Whenever he walked into our little locker room, he always had something funny to say about what was going on in sports. He loved his sports. He was like a sports encyclopedia."
Born in New Orleans in 1942, Nastasi spent his entire life in the Bayou state. He graduated from Saint Aloysius High School in 1960 where he ran track as an All-State sprinter and played football. Nastasi received a scholarship to run track at LSU and eventually transferred to the University of Louisiana-Lafayette where he still holds the school record in the 220-yard dash. He received a master's degree in education from Nicholls State University and started his long high school teaching and coaching career at Saint Aloysius.
After spending two years teaching with Piazza at Chalmette High School, Nastasi would eventually go to East Jefferson High School, where he would spend over 30 years of his career. He also taught physical education at Joshua Butler Elementary School.
Nastasi coached both football and track at East Jefferson, leading the Warriors to two state Track and Field Boys Championships and a district championship in football. He also coached one of the first high school football games ever played at the Superdome.
After retiring from East Jefferson, Nastasi still helped the St. Paul's High School track team as an assistant with his son, Al Nastasi III, leading the Wolves to seven district titles.
"I believe in his heart of hearts he liked his track more than his football, that's just my opinion of course," Kornick said.
The football and track coach mentored hundreds of students over his coaching career, becoming a local legend in the high school sports world. Kornick said he always had your attention because you didn't want to miss what he was saying. Piazza said he always got the most out of the kids he coached and his greatest asset was his ability to motivate.
"He was probably the greatest motivator in the New Orleans area," Piazza said. "He was a great individual, very dedicated to the kids and to the programs, no matter what program he was in."
The Louisiana native met his wife Sharon in 1970, and the two were married for 57 years. Nastasi is survived by Al III, his grandchildren, Al IV, Abbey and Rhett, his brother Michael and his sister Joni.