Bruce native Fred Thomas participates in Super Bowl ring ceremony for ALS victim and former Saint Steve Gleason

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Former Saints special teams leader Steve Gleason now has a Super Bowl ring of his own and a key to the City of New Orleans.

Gleason, who has been diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, received the ring from Saints coach Sean Payton and the key from Mayor Mitch Landrieu during a surprise party at a St. Charles Avenue restaurant on Monday night.

Many of Gleason’s old teammates, including Drew Brees, Scott Fujita and Deuce McAllister, shared the moment with family and friends.

After receiving the ring, Gleason stood up and delivered an emotional speech that produced both laughter and tears.

“At the beginning of the game, I never knew if we were going to win or lose, but I was always certain that I was going to walk out of there with my head held high because I got ready, I had the right people around me and I was going to give it everything I had,” Gleason said. “It’s the same now. We’re going to give it everything we got. And I have a calming sense of certainty that we’re going to win this thing.”

espy-puntblockGleason, a native of Spokane, Wash., retired in 2008 as a Saints folk hero whose highlights included a blocked punt in the 2006 home opener, the first game played in the rebuilt Louisiana Superdome after Hurricane Katrina.

At the surprise party, Fujita introduced a video montage of highlights from Gleason’s career, which included his four blocked punts and his daring jump into a free-fall water slide during a past training camp in Jackson, Miss.

“When I think about the journey we’ve been on, it’s not so much about the trophies, it’s not so much about the actual games themselves, it’s about each individual contribution and memory on that journey,” Fujita said.

Landrieu called Gleason’s 2006 blocked punt the greatest play in franchise history, and thanked Gleason, who settled in New Orleans with his wife, Michel, for what he continues to mean to the city.

“You have continued to just teach us and show us with great grace and dignity and strength, what it really means to live a full life,” Landrieu said. “It’s a great lesson and you keep giving it to us and so we love you.”

Payton, who arrived in New Orleans as a rookie coach in 2006 with a rebuilding task in front of him, credited Gleason with helping him solidify foundation of a franchise that now expects to contend for titles.

“Everyone that was a part of that team represents a part of that foundation, and we also know it’s extremely strong,” Payton said.

Other Saints players past and present at the gathering included Will Smith, Jon Stinchcomb, John Casey, Scott Shanle, Mark Simoneau, Michael Lewis, Fred McAfee, and Fred Thomas, a native of Bruce, Miss.

Gleason went public with his diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis on Sunday morning. The night before, he delivered an inspirational talk to the team, then participated as an honorary captain for Sunday’s 40-33 win over Houston.

“People always ask me if I get tired of hearing about the blocked punt – and I used to say, ‘No,’” Gleason joked, then added, “The last few days have been pretty overwhelming, in a great way.”

Gleason is starting an organization called Team Gleason, which aims to inspire those with ALS to live the fullest possible lives with the help of technology, therapy and the support from loved ones and others in the ALS community.

“We can talk about the blocked punt, we can talk about ’06, we can talk about rings,” Gleason said. “But what’s more important to me is what we do after we walk out of this room.”

Photos by Associated Press

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