Unless you love pro football and live in the Gulf Coast, chances are pretty good you've never heard of Steve Gleason. He's a retired NFL player who started only one game, performing on special teams and as a backup safety for the New Orleans Saints.
Gleason became a folk hero in New Orleans following his blocked punt on the night the Louisiana Superdome reopened for the first time after Hurricane Katrina five years ago.
In 2008, Gleason retired from the NFL. He married a New Orleans girl in May of that year and following a legendary six-month honeymoon adventure to Greece, Nepal, Indonesia, Thailand and Australia, the newlyweds made New Orleans their home.
Then, last January, at age 34, the Spokane, Wash., native was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that following the diagnosis, Gleason and his wife made the decision to have a baby. In February, just a month after finding out about his illness, Gleason's wife, Michel Varisco, became pregnant. She said "there was no hesitation" about keeping the baby.
Gleason was the Saints ceremonial team captain before Sunday's win against the Texans. Wearing his No. 37
jersey, he was part of the coin toss and lead the sellout crowd of 73,000 in the traditional pre-game "Who Dat" chant.
On Monday, the Saints put together a special ceremony for Gleason,giving him his own Super Bowl 44 championship ring. Mayor Mitch Landrieu gave him a key to the city.
According to research, about two in 100,000 people are diagnosed with ALS. That means just two or three NFL players would have gotten it since 1970, at least according to the national average. However, Dr. Steve Perrin, chief scientific officer at the ALS Therapy Development Institute in Cambridge, Mass., tells WDSU-TV New Orleans that he knowns of 27 cases of NFL players being diagnosed with ALS, by far the most of any major American pro sport. Perrin told the TV station a direct link between concussions in sports and ALS has not yet been proven. Dr. Perrin told the TV station that not a single NHL player has been reported to have ALS.