Saints' top plays: Gleason's blocked punt

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in New Orleans Saints history. In the next two days, we’ll feature two plays that helped the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV: the “Ambush” onside kick to start the second half and cornerback Tracy Porter’s game-clinching interception return for a touchdown against Peyton Manning in the fourth quarter. Please vote for your choice as the Saints’ most memorable play.

Score: Saints 23, Falcons 3

Date: Sept. 25, 2006 Site: Louisiana Superdome

Forget Saints history. Steve Gleason’s blocked punt on the night the Superdome reopened following Hurricane Katrina ranks as one of the most exhilarating moments in the history of New Orleans, period.

The building was already at a fever pitch on that incredibly emotional night, when the Saints returned to their home stadium for the first time on a national stage on “Monday Night Football.” The Superdome, which had been a symbol of the devastation the city endured a year earlier, now stood as a symbol of New Orleans’ rebirth after a remarkable effort by NFL, team and city officials to renovate the Superdome in such a short span of time. A spectacular pregame concert featured U2 and Green Day.

The excitement continued to grow when the Saints’ defense forced a quick three-and-out against their most heated divisional rival, the Atlanta Falcons -- highlighted by Scott Fujita’s sack of quarterback Michael Vick. Then the place absolutely exploded when beloved special teamer Steve Gleason flew in to block a punt and teammate Curtis Deloatch scooped up the loose ball for a touchdown and an instant 7-0 Saints lead. One of the NFL’s loudest venues has never been louder than that moment.

To make things even more special, the play helped spark the Saints to an unlikely 3-0 start that year in the first season under new coach Sean Payton and new quarterback Drew Brees after they had gone 3-13 the season before. The Saints went on to the NFC Championship Game that season, officially kicking off the greatest era in franchise history.

A statue of that block was later erected outside of the Superdome, further immortalizing Gleason, who became an adopted son and cult hero in New Orleans long before he was diagnosed with ALS and began an even more remarkable worldwide campaign to fight the disease.