Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer
Watching Steve Gleason walk to midfield for the coin toss against the Houston Texans I became incredibly emotional. At the time I couldn’t really figure out why. I hadn’t had tears stream down my face at a Saints game since Flipper Anderson caught 500 passes for 6,000 yards on a Sunday night in 1989.
Didn’t cry after Hakim dropped the ball, not when the Dome was reopened post Katrina, and not after Garrett Hartley’s kick beat the Vikings and sent the Saints to the Superbowl.
Here was Steve Gleason, a career special teamer with one great moment, and I’m crying watching him walk out for the coin toss. I’ve never met him so there’s no personal connection so maybe it was because he and I are about the same age and I’m seeing my own mortality in front of me? I’m not that sentimental.
So what was going on with me and why do so many Saints fans connect with Gleason? The easy answer is to say anyone getting ALS breaks your heart or maybe it was because he embraced the city, our culture, and nobody loves free spirits like New Orleans. All good reasons but there seemed to be something else I couldn’t put my finger on. Then I was watching the ESPN documentary ‘Catching Hell’ and it hit me why Steve Gleason matters to me and maybe every Saint fan.
‘Catching Hell’ was about how Chicago Cubs fans blamed Steve Bartman for keeping the Cubs from the World Series. If you aren’t familiar with the story it began when Bartman blocks a Cubs outfielder reaching into the stands trying to catch a foul ball. The outfielder flips out, fans in stadium begin to panic, Cubs collapse, game over and Chicago’s dream of a first World Series appearance in over 50 years is gone.
The Cubs have over 100 years of failure and their fans believe they are cursed and eventually heartbreaking disappointment is going to happen even if their greatest dream seems within reach.
Watching the documentary you could actually see the entire stadium after the Bartman incident start to collectively sigh, “Here we go. The Cubs are going to blow this.”
Kind of like the New Orleans Saints fans pre-2006 no?
Before the Superdome reopened in 2006 New Orleans Saints fans were always waiting for the worst to happen. The Saints had one playoff win and a fan base that had so many traumas done to it no amount of therapy could fix our neurosis.
The Saints had added Drew Brees, Reggie Bush and Sean Payton in the spring of ‘06 but we’d seen the Saints reshuffle coaches and players to give us hope before. Every time it was just a mirage.
Then on September 25, 2006 Steve Gleason washed all the Saints past failures away.
Steve Gleason’s punt block brought our dreams to life. Up until Gleason burst through the Falcon’s line the New Orleans Saints were known for bags, getting Archie Manning killed, and were the laughing stock of the NFL. From the moment Gleason spread his arms and acted like he was flying after Curtis Deloach’s touchdown the Saints have known nothing but success.
Sunday in the Dome when the Texans went ahead 33-32 late in the fourth quarter the fans just shrugged and the guy who sits behind me literally said, “No worries. Drew’s got this.” If you think that happens in a pre 2006 Superdome you are delusional. Saints fans would have been panicked, angry, and dreading the long painful drive home after yet another fourth quarter failure. Now we expect victory and dancing to ‘Get Krunk’.
I can point to the exact moment where everything began to change for the New Orleans Saints and it’s when Steve blocked that punt on a Monday night. It’s why he matters so much. He started it all.
To the games
Last Week: 5-0
Jacksonville (+7) vs. New Orleans: Did you known the Jaguars are fourth in total defense? Who knew right? Sure they have played the Titans, Jets, and Panthers but it’s solid. They are 30th in sacks, which isn’t a good thing when going against Drew Brees. The Saints could be without two offensive linemen, which is always a concern on the road.
The Jaguars are sixth in rushing offense at 134 yards a game. Against Carolina they ran on 22 of their first 24 plays in the second half. Why? Can you name even one starting receiver for the Jaguars? Didn’t think so. This should be a very good test of the Saints run defense as Jacksonville will keep running the ball until either the Saints stop them or they fall behind by a couple scores.
Remember kids the question doesn’t matter to Gregg Williams because the answer is always, “Blitz!” He’ll be doing a ton of it against Jags rookie QB Blaine Gabbert.
Everything points to a Saints blowout but I’m not going to trust this defense on the road against any team until they show it to me. I fully expect Jacksonville to try to shorten this game with ball control and make it as boring as possible. The most exciting thing about Jack Del Rio is the leather jacket he breaks out for night games.
Carolina (+6.5) at Chicago: If you missed the Bears breaking out maybe the best trick play ever please google Bears punt return. Hey Lovie, save that baby for a game you can actually win and don’t use it when you are down 10 with a minute left. I’m buying Cam Newton.
Baltimore (-3.5) vs. New York Jets: Are we sure the Jets are any good? Their offensive line is banged up so they can’t run the ball and the Raiders just crammed the ball down their throat so why wouldn’t the Ravens do the exact same thing?
Seattle (+4.5) vs. Atlanta: The Falcons offensive line is a train wreck and something just seems off with them. It’s almost like they have decided they want to be a pass happy team even if giving Michael Turner 25 carries is their best chance to win. They need one more failed week of air Ryan before they get back to basics. Did I just roll with Tavaris Jackson? Yes I did.
Kansas City (+1.5) vs. Minnesota: The Vikings have had double digit leads in all three games but are still 0-3. Either they come out mad and crush the Chiefs or come out horribly flat and get crushed. By 12:30 on Sunday I’ll know if taking KC was a bad idea.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at email@example.com, find him on facebook, follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/MilneMalbrough or download his podcast at Itunes.