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No White Flags!
Steve Gleason. An inspiration at the Evening of Hope.
“The good teams overcome adversity.
They face fear head on with a calming sense of certainty.

That is a winning formula.”

-Steve Gleason
 
Steve Gleason
Photo by Michael C. Hebert
Billed the most important play in New Orleans Saints history, it started innocently enough. The Atlanta Falcons were simply punting.

It was the opening series of the game, Monday, Sept. 25, 2006. It was the first NFL game in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina had devastated the proud city the year before. And it was Monday night football, with millions of fans around the country watching.

The smallish back-up free safety lined up in the middle of the line, looking for a space, the slightest window, to squeeze through and take a shot at blocking the punt. It’s something that happens time and time again with no luck. It would be different this night. 

The ball was snapped. There was an opening. In white, #37 flashed through, jumped and spread like an eagle, arms extended in the direction of the punter. The sound of leather against the outstretched arms resonated throughout the Superdome. The ball careened towards the end zone.

Another Saints player scooped it up and crossed the goal line. Touchdown! 

The crowd exploded, the roof shook like no other time before, even during Super Bowls at the iconic stadium. The Saints were back. More importantly New Orleans was back. And #37 was the hero.

Number 37 was and is Steve Gleason. And the play is renowned as the greatest in Saints history. Because it gave New Orleans back its identity. It gave New Orleans back its pride.

Watch the play here. You need to. But be prepared. It will give you goose bumps like you’ve never gotten before. 

The Saints won 23-3. And New Orleans mayor Mitch Landreau explained just before this year’s Super Bowl at the Superdome, “Steve Gleason’s play transformed New Orleans from losers into winners. He transformed the attitude of the city. The city had the courage to find itself again.” 

Ironically, courage is what winds up describing Steve Gleason. 

In 2011, Steve Gleason revealed that he was battling ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, which would soon begin to shut down his body. ALS is a horrific, silent killer. There is no recovery. The only question is how long you can fight it. 

People who get ALS fight hard. But ALS always wins, and family and friends are left devastated. Most battles are fought under the radar. Not Steve Gleason’s. And here’s where his notoriety from “The Play” comes in. Steve is using that and his battle with ALS to create more awareness of the disease and raise more money for research.

Steve Gleason is the honoree at this Saturday’s annual Evening of Hope, held at the Hyatt Regency in Downtown Milwaukee. The Evening of Hope is the premier annual fundraiser for the ALS Association Wisconsin Chapter and is one incredible event.

According to Melanie Roach-Bekos, the chapter’s executive director: “This year is our 20th Evening of Hope which is a milestone in it itself in terms of a commitment by the community to stick with us as we fight to find the needed answers to ALS... The Evening of Hope has become a signature event with renowned speakers that has raised over $2.7 million since its inception by Jeff Kaufman in 1993. This event provides ALS patients and their families the hope that through research we will find a cure to ALS. One hundred percent of the monies raised from the Evening of Hope supports ALS research…”

You may remember from a couple of my earlier columns that this is THE event we look forward to the most every year. It started for me 11 years ago when I was blown away by the glitz and glitter of the Evening of Hope, resplendent in its black ties and spectacular dresses, incredible silent and live auctions and the pomp and circumstance befitting an event of its stature.

But all that changed quickly for me when I learned about what ALS does and how horrible it is. ALS is a disease that attacks the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, rendering them eventually useless and reducing the person to complete immobility. A cure for ALS still hasn’t been found. There is no effective treatment. But through donations and support, researchers get closer every day to finding treatment and, eventually, a cure.

Steve Gleason’s motto is “No White Flags.” He’s fighting with every ounce of strength he has left for that cure. The disease has rendered him virtually immobile now, he breathes through a ventilator, communicates through a voice-enabled computer via his eye pupils, the only part of his body he still truly controls.

Gleason has established Team Gleason, an initiative that believes everyone who is diagnosed with ALS has the right to the best treatment and help possible. Team Gleason is about “finding better treatment, building the best places for people with ALS to live and giving them a chance to live what is left of their lives as fully as possible,” according to Roach-Bekos. You can watch a wonderful video with NFL players supporting Steve and Team Gleason at their website.

Gleason is using his notoriety from “The Play” to keep this goal visible. In fact, he was truly the star of this year’s Super Bowl, appearing at the place where he gained his fame to bring attention to the cause. As Randall Lane so eloquently said in Forbes magazine just before the Super Bowl, “…So will the man who made the most iconic play in Saints history return to the Superdome field, a hero once more in a way vastly more profound than any blocked punt.”

Every year, ALS takes too many people who are full of energy and life and strikes them down. We need to do something. We can’t raise the white flag. We have to fight like Steve Gleason is fighting.

As you evaluate those causes worthy of your donations, I ask you to consider this one. This weekend’s event is sold out, but I encourage you to think about going in March 2014. And you can visit the ALS Wisconsin Chapter’s website and make a donation.

Steve Gleason can be your inspiration. Your encouragement. Your motivation. Because his attitude is infectious. 

No white flags here, baby.

__

Follow me on Twitter: @jpalmer7890





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