I wasn't sure what to expect from Peter King's feature on Steve Gleason. I figured Gleason's story would be told, people would learn about ALS and the blocked punt would be shown a couple times. I didn't expect to be sitting in front of the TV, bawling my eyes out an hour before the Super Bowl (it was dusty, sue me). Yet there I was and I know I wasn't alone.
I wasn't sure why the pre-Super Bowl feature hit me so hard until after it was all over. I know Gleason's story well and have followed him closely. I remember being incredibly impressed by the reaction of everyone who came into contact with him when he visited Pullman last year. He was positive, even happy, despite knowing he was facing a death sentence. But still, I'd seen his story told many times, to the point where I knew what the pre-packaged pieces would look like.
And then I was jarred to reality by Jeff.
"Holy hell. He is deteriorating so fast. I can't even believe it."
I realized I didn't want to accept it. But watching Gleason talk now, as compared to even a few months ago, was shocking. His speech is going -- something that brought his wife to tears -- and his body is failing him. He was diagnosed with ALS 13 months ago. It's been a year.
The video opened with Gleason shooting through a gap in the Atlanta Falcons' punt formation and blocking the attempt, which the Saints recovered for a touchdown. It was the first game back in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina and will live forever in Saints' lore. It was also the defining moment of Gleason's career. No matter what happens, it will live on forever.
Seeing the impact he's made on those around him is inspiring. Drew Brees' face lit up every time he talked about Steve, be it because of the blocked punt or the way he lives his life. Here's the star quarterback and the face of the franchise talking about a man who made one start and was mostly unsung during his NFL career. Gleason left a lasting impression on Brees, just as he has on everyone else he's come into contact with.
And then you get to the end of the feature and see Gleason struggle to talk and walk, slurring his words as his battle with ALS is staring you right in the face. You're watching a man being overtaken by a disease with no cure, and it's all happening too fast. This isn't a slow burn, it's an inferno rushing through his body.
He's not even 35-years-old yet -- his birthday is in March. Just a few years ago, he was throwing his body around on the field, just like he's always done. He was always the undersized, chip-on-your-shoulder player, and perhaps that's what endeared him to fans. As he says, though, it may have also played a role in his current state.
We still don't fully understand the toll a football player career has on one's body, specifically the brain. Part of Sunday's feature focused on the connection between brain trauma sustained on the field and complications that manifest themselves later in life. It's frightening to think that this is what one can be reduced to, all because of football.
Team Gleason is leading the change while trying to raise awareness about ALS. He brought two men with ALS with him to the Super Bowl, sucking them into his world and giving them an experience of a lifetime. Through research, perhaps we can learn more about ALS. Maybe we can find something to at least slow its effect. Or if nothing else, Gleason's foundation can give those battling the disease one more memory through trips such as the one he organized on Sunday.
If you do nothing else, remember his words at the end of the piece.
"We all have a timeline. Most of us don't live like we have a timeline."
I have no idea how much time Steve Gleason has left. He has no idea how much time he has left. But you can bet he's going out swinging and living every day to its fullest while trying to help others along the way.
You can learn more about Gleason at his website. Buy a shirt, make a donation, or just take his words to heart and spread the message.