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Saints’ Gleason PFWA’s 2015 Halas Award winner

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Former New Orleans Saints special-teams hero Steve Gleason was named Monday by the Pro Football Writers of America as winner of the 2015 George Halas Award for his very public battle with and against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, otherwise known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Gleason is the third Saints player and 46th overall recipient of this annual PFWA honor for a NFL player, coach or staff member who overcomes adversity to succeed. Previous Saints winners were kicker Tom Dempsey (1972) and current quarterback Drew Brees.

Gleason is already a fabled hero for the Saints, for whom he played from 2000 to 2007. In fact there is a statue of Gleason outside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome depicting one of the most dramatic plays in franchise history.

On Sept. 25, 2006, Gleason blocked a punt against the Atlanta Falcons in the first quarter of the team’s first game in the Louisiana SuperDome after the area was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The ball was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown and the Saints were on their way to their most successful season ever at that point.

The statue is titled “rebirth.”

On Sept. 25, 2011, five years to the day after that blocked punt, and three years after he retired, Gleason went public that he had ALS. On that day he was an honorary captain and walked to the center of the field for the coin toss with a noticeable limp as he steadied himself with one hand on Brees’ shoulder.

“In a way I see this as an opportunity to continue to be an inspiration, maybe even more so than I have been,” Gleason said that day. “You have to continue to do things you love. There’s technology available that, if I’m proactive, I can continue to do some of those things. You have to engage in passionate, remarkable human relationships, which has always been important to me.”

Gleason has helped raise funds to help provide individuals with neuromuscular diseases or injuries with leading-edge technology, equipment and services via his Gleason Initiative Foundation and the Team Gleason organization.

Gleason was diagnosed with ALS in January of 2011. He teamed with family and friends and started Team Gleason to help people diagnosed with ALS to live productive, inspired lives by providing access to life-affirming events and assistive technology until a cure is found.

His zeal for life and travel around the world has not been slowed by his diagnosis. Fueled by his slogans of “No White Flags!” and “Awesome Ain’t Easy,” Gleason and his foundation work to raise public awareness about ALS and find ways to end the disease. He completed his work on his MBA from Tulane University, and he and wife Michel started a family with the birth of son Rivers in October 2011.

As part of his advocacy in getting assistive technology in the hands of those suffering with ALS and related diseases, the U.S. Senate passed the Steve Gleason Act of 2015 in April, which if passed by the House and signed into law, would make speech generating devices, like the one Gleason uses to communicate to the world, available to patients through Medicare and Medicaid.

In April 2014, Gleason’s foundation received a $5 million gift from Saints owner Tom Benson for the Team Gleason House for Innovative Living. The facility in New Orleans’ St. Margaret’s Skilled Nursing Residence allows up to 18 patients with incurable neuromuscular disorders to live as independently as possible in rooms where the environment (lights, doors, elevators, TVs, computers and more) are controlled by the patients’ eyes.

The Benson gift will be used as an endowment for annual operating expenses for the home. Chase gave a $350,000 grant in January 2014 to help develop technologies that will help patients at the facility.

Gleason was originally signed by the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent out of Washington State in 2000 and was released in the preseason. The Saints signed him to the practice squad in November 2000, and he saw action in three games that season. He made his reputation as a solid player on special teams during his career, blocking four punts and was named captain of the special teams unit. After missing the entire 2007 season with a knee injury, he retired from football in March 2008.

The Spokane, Wash., native was a two-sport athlete in football and baseball at Washington State from 1995-99, where he was a three-time All-Pacific 10 Conference honoree at linebacker. Gleason was inducted into the Washington State Athletic Hall of Fame in 2014.

–GEORGE HALAS AWARD WINNERS (To the NFL player, coach or staff member who overcomes the most adversity to succeed): 1970 – Joe Namath (New York Jets); 1971 – Gale Sayers (Chicago Bears); 1972 – Tom Dempsey (New Orleans Saints); 1973 – Jimmy Johnson (San Francisco 49ers); 1974 – Mike Tilleman (Atlanta Falcons); 1975 – Dick Butkus (Chicago Bears); 1976 – Billy Kilmer (Washington Redskins); 1977 – Tom DeLeone (Cleveland Browns); 1978 – Pat Fischer (Washington Redskins); 1979 – Bert Jones (Baltimore Colts); 1980 – Roger Staubach (Dallas Cowboys); 1981 – Rolf Benirschke (San Diego Chargers); 1982 – Joe Klecko (New York Jets); 1983 – Eddie Lee Ivery (Green Bay Packers); 1984 – Ted Hendricks (Los Angeles Raiders); 1985 – John Stallworth (Pittsburgh Steelers); 1986 – Gary Jeter (Los Angeles Rams); 1987 – William Andrews (Atlanta Falcons); 1988 – Joe Montana (San Francisco 49ers); 1989 – Karl Nelson (New York Giants); 1990 – Tim Krumrie (Cincinnati Bengals); 1991 – Dan Hampton (Chicago Bears); 1992 – Mike Utley (Detroit Lions); 1993 – Mark Bavaro (Cleveland Browns); 1994 – Joe Montana (San Francisco 49ers); 1995 – Dan Marino (Miami Dolphins); 1996 – Larry Brown (Oakland Raiders); 1997 – Jim Harbaugh (Indianapolis Colts); 1998 – Mark Schlereth (Denver Broncos); 1999 – Dan Reeves (Atlanta Falcons); 2000 – Bryant Young (San Francisco 49ers); 2001 – Kerry Collins (New York Giants); 2002 – Garrison Hearst (San Francisco 49ers); 2003 – Robert Edwards (Miami Dolphins); 2004 – Sam Mills (Carolina Panthers); 2005 – Mark Fields (Carolina Panthers); 2006 – Tony Dungy (Indianapolis Colts); 2007 – Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints); 2008 – Kevin Everett (Buffalo Bills); 2009 – Matt Bryant (Tampa Bay Buccaneers); 2010 – Mike Zimmer (Cincinnati Bengals); 2011 – Mike Heimerdinger (Tennessee Titans); 2012 – Robert Kraft (New England Patriots); 2013 – Chuck Pagano (Indianapolis Colts); 2014 – O.J. Brigance (Baltimore Ravens); 2015 – Steve Gleason (New Orleans Saints).

–ABOUT THE PFWA: The Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA) is the official voice of pro football writers, promoting and fighting for access to NFL personnel to best serve the public. The PFWA is made up of accredited writers who cover the NFL and the 32 teams on a daily basis. Jeff Legwold, who covers the Denver Broncos for ESPN.com, is the organization’s president for 2015-17, while Bleacher Report national columnist Dan Pompei is the PFWA’s first vice-president and ESPN’s Jim Trotter is the organization’s second vice-president. Follow the PFWA at ProFootballWriters.org and on Twitter at @PFWAwriters.


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