Saturday, October 1, 2011

From the Archives: Requiem for a 'Specialist'

So with the sad news about Steve Gleason's diagnosis, I thought I'd dig up an old post from a few years ago. I have made only a couple minor tweaks and adjustments, nothing that changes the narrative. Enjoy.

This post originally appeared on March 14, 2008...


Steve Gleason retired Wednesday after a seven-year career following micro-fracture knee surgery in 2007. He injured himself in training camp (I believe it was training camp...). He was not necessarily somebody you thought of as a starter, but he was a role player, and a damn good one to boot. He was a special teams guy and I often took to calling him "The Specialist." Maybe it was my attempt to scoff at that Stallone movie of the same name...I dunno. But here's what I do know: Steve Gleason retired and that makes me a sad panda.

Everybody's already written about his famous blocked punt, which can be relived again and again right here:

I was there at the game. Much beer was spilled, and many high-fives and hugs were exchanged between my buddies and me. We all Steve Gleason (and Curtis DeLoatch, too, I can't forget to mention him) the lifetime beer pass: he should never have to pay for another beer in New Orleans as long as he lives.

But I wanted to share a nice story about the time I got to interview #37. I was working for a TV station in New Orleans in the internet department prior to the 2006 season. The station decided it wanted an internet person there to help blog stuff from training camp at Millsaps College in Mississippi. I made the three hour drive up there and was getting soundbytes from Coach Sean Payton and players when they cam down for interviews with the media after practices.

Being a new guy, I was far too timid to really approach a player on a one-on-one basis. At the time, my proudest moment was that Sean Payton said "Good question" to something I asked front of the other media guys, no less! But I was looking for guys to interview, just to get a few quotes or maybe a story out of, something I could put on the station website to go along with the usual XYZ player did this, so-and-so did that, etc. You get the point.

One of the writers up there recommended I talk to Gleason and said he had a real good story about how he was playing with the Saints. After the afternoon practice, I managed to get a one-on-one interview with the guy. While Jim Haslett was still the coach, the Haz Man gave Gleason a call up in Washington to ask him to come and play for the Saints again. Gleason was installing an air conditioning unit or some duct work or something...and just had a 'Lou Brown moment' on the phone with Haslett: "Yeah, coach, I'm kinda doing something, lemme get back to you."

As I remember it, Haslett kinda snapped at him in a funny way and got Gleason back down to New Orleans to play.

Before wrapping the interview up, I'd heard Gleason was a huge fan of Pearl Jam (still my favorite band) and wanted to ask him about that. Their new album (‘Pearl Jam’ aka, the Avocado cover) had just come out and I wanted to get his take on it. Gleason said he really loved the song 'Inside Job'. I told him I dug 'Come Back' and 'Unemployable'.

It was just one of those moments where I feel like a got to connect on a level beyond sports, albeit briefly, with a pro athlete. And then to see him make such a spectacular play on national television that forever etched him in Saints lore, right up there with Brian Milne, is pretty damned cool.

I know if I ever have a chance to buy the man a beer, I'm not gonna ask him about the punt...I'm gonna ask him what other bands he likes, and probably recommend he go out and buy some Old 97s or Wilco.

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