<span>New Orleans Saints S Steve Gleason, among the best NFL special teams players of his era and remembered by the club's fans for lending both hands to one of the most memorable plays in franchise history, has announced his retirement after playing seven seasons.
A crowd favorite because of his fearless play on the coverage units, Gleason made several key contributions during his time in a Saints uniform. But none was more dramatic than on Sept. 25, 2006 vs. the Atlanta Falcons. In the first contest at the refurbished Superdome after it was used as a shelter for Hurricane Katrina, Gleason provided one of the defining moments of a season where the Saints advanced to the NFC Championship Game, blocking a punt that was recovered for a touchdown on the game's fourth play.
"Obviously that was a huge play and one that everyone will always remember, but Steve holds a special place in our organization because of the way he approached every game," said Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis. "Steve is the kind of player who your special teams are built around – self-made, determined and with a passion for the game. He was a great teammate and he also showed what can be accomplished with his work in the community."
Gleason played in 83 NFL games, all with New Orleans. He posted 98 tackles on special teams to lead the team over that span, including 67 solo stops.
"I have wonderful memories from throughout my career, and it has been an amazing trip for a kid who was a long shot to play even one game in the NFL," said Gleason, who will be married to Michelle Varisco in May. "I am grateful to the Saints organization for giving me a chance to prove myself, and to Coach Sean Payton, for having faith that I could help the team win in 2006.
"Mostly, I am thankful to the people here for embracing me as a player and as a person. The city has been so good to me. I'm marrying a New Orleans girl, and we plan on being part of this beautiful community forever. Although I will miss the NFL, I look forward to my future."
Gleason blocked four punts during his career, including one each season from 2002-04. In 2002 at Carolina, he blocked a punt that led to a quick touchdown drive and was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.
"Steve was invaluable because he was an integral part of everything we did on special teams and he was one of our leaders," said Payton. "As a coach, you look for players who have his attitude. Steve's success was a product of hard work, and we are going to miss everything he brought to our team, both as a player and a person."
Said LB Scott Fujita: "Steve is probably the best teammate I've ever had. And for one play, that punt he blocked in the Superdome against the Falcons is the single best memory I have in professional football. I think it was a special moment for everyone. He was a great friend, and we're going to miss him."
A linebacker during his career at Washington State, Gleason's road to NFL success was paved by perseverance and hard work. He was originally signed in 2000 as an undrafted free agent by the Indianapolis Colts, but was released prior to the regular season. Three months later he was added to the Saints' practice squad, and saw limited action at the end of the season.
In 2001, he played for the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe before appearing in the final seven games for the Saints. By 2002, Gleason had nailed down a permanent spot on the roster with his inspired special teams play, and led the club with 27 tackles despite missing two contests. In 2003, he was the Saints' top tackler again with 21 and added a fumble recovery, and in 2004 blocked a punt that was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown – a first for the Saints since 1977. Typical of his toughness, late that year Gleason suffered a pulmonary contusion, but returned the next week.
"You could always depend on Steve," said CB Jason Craft, who joined the Saints in 2004. "When I first came to New Orleans, he helped me out a great deal, both in practice and in the meeting room. On special teams, he was always a guy you wanted on your side. You knew Steve was going to go all-out, every time. He was never the fastest guy, but he was always one of the first guys down the field."
Gleason was also a fixture in the club's community relations efforts. His foundation, "One Sweet World," donated 7,000 backpacks filled with supplies and books to New Orleans public schools in a program called "Backpacks for Hope" following Hurricane Katrina.
Known for the flowing hair out of the back of his helmet, several times during his career he has also donated his hair to "Locks of Love," which makes wigs for children with cancer. Gleason was also a regular visitor at Children's Hospital.