NEW ORLEANS -- Emotions were so high after a special New Orleans premiere of the "Gleason" documentary film on Tuesday night that New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton got choked up while speaking on the stage.
Then, as Payton paused to collect his thoughts, Steve Gleason brought the house down by using his automated voice technology to basically call his former coach a wimp -- in less flattering terms.
That's the kind of night it was -- they laughed and they cried -- as Steve and his wife Michel shared the raw, intimate look at Steve's battle against ALS with family, friends and other prominent members of the New Orleans community.
Dozens of Saints players and coaches were in attendance at New Orleans' Orpheum Theater, including Drew Brees, who is a co-executive producer of the film. The film will be released to a wider audience on July 29.
"It's hard not to be moved by the film, regardless if you've ever known Steve or call him a friend. It's raw and it's real," Brees said. "You're gonna get emotional on many, many occasions. You're gonna think deeply about things that you've probably never gone that deep about before ... because they really hold nothing back.
"And it's meant to be that way. Listen, that's the way Steve lives his life."
The documentary, which has earned rave reviews from several film festivals after debuting earlier this year at Sundance, could become an Oscar contender. But it began as a series of home video journals from Gleason to his unborn son, Rivers.
Gleason was diagnosed with ALS in 2011 and didn't know if he would live long enough to build a traditional relationship with his son, who is now 4 years old. The project grew, and by the time director Clay Tweel put it all together, he had more than 1,300 hours of footage to work with.
The film also digs deep into the highs and lows of Steve's relationship with his own father and with his wife as they try to balance the brutal daily struggles with the disease against Gleason's growing role as a nationally-celebrated "hero" for those suffering from ALS.
Among many other accomplishments of the Team Gleason foundation, Gleason was the inspiration behind a bill signed into law last year by President Barack Obama, making critical technology available to patients through Medicare and Medicaid.
"It's pretty incredible what he's been able to accomplish," said Brees, who said it was "heart-wrenching" when he and others found out that Gleason was diagnosed with ALS, "because you felt like this is the last guy on earth who deserves something like this. And yet he's one of the only people on earth that could do with it what he's been doing."
Payton recalled that Steve and Michel were always the kind of people who were going to "change the world," long before Gleason was diagnosed with ALS. Payton cracked that he used to think it would be through something like alternative energy using "french fry oil." But he said a "higher power was saying, 'Sit tight, we've got bigger plans for you.'"
Gleason spoke to the audience after the film, saying Tuesday's premiere was more special and nerve-wracking than any of the other times he had seen the film. He said his exact quote before the premiere was, "I'm so nervous I need to take a dump."
But Gleason quickly comforted the audience -- which got to see his very real struggles with such issues on film -- by saying, "Don't worry, I didn't go in my pants."
Gleason also began his comments by cracking, "I hope you enjoyed our film. I need some tequila."
But as he did repeatedly in the film, Gleason also got deep and heartfelt with his audience, saying, "If it weren't for this city and the people in this theater, there would be no Team Gleason ... no changing the world. Thank you."