It was impossible not to root for Steve Gleason. The undersized, undrafted former linebacker made the New Orleans Saints squad as a special teams player in 2000, and his fearless and disciplined play made him a perennial fan favorite. With his trademark shoulder-length hair, you couldn’t miss Gleason on the field; he was often the wedge-buster or gunner on punt coverage, running full-speed and shedding blockers and looking like a black-and-gold Tasmanian devil wearing No. 37.
He was equally respected for his off-the-field pursuits. His non-profit foundation One Sweet World promotes literacy and environmental projects in New Orleans; Gleason helped collect 8,000 backpacks stuffed with school supplies for children affected by Katrina; and he cut his hair twice and donated it to cancer charity Locks of Love . Now he’s retiring from football at the age of 31 .
“I think I could play a few more years but I would rather walk away with my health intact than the opposite,” Gleason told The Times-Picayune. “I just played as hard as I could for as long as I could,” Gleason said. “I feel real good about what I accomplished.”
Gleason will forever be remembered for the punt-block heard around the world, when the Saints returned to the Superdome on Sept. 24, 2006, for the first home game after Hurricane Katrina: