Saints special teams star Gleason retires

NEW ORLEANS -- Steve Gleason, a scrappy special teams favorite who cemented his place in New Orleans Saints lore with a blocked punt during the Louisiana Superdome's reopening following Hurricane Katrina, has decided to retire.

"The time's right. I'm getting married. I can walk away with my health," said Gleason, who turns 31 this month. "I want to be active and adventurous when I'm 80 years old. If football was all I had in my life, I probably could play three or four more years. Who knows?"

Gleason, a free-agent, spent 2007 on injured reserve after having microfracture surgery on his right knee. He said the operation - which involves drilling tiny holes in the bone to stimulate growth of tissue similar to cartilage - was a success and he believes his knee will be close to fully recovered soon.

At 5-foot-11 and 212 pounds, the relatively undersized Gleason stood out on the field for two reasons: his long, light-brown hair that stuck out of the back of his helmet and the way he hurdled himself downfield on kick coverage with seemingly no regard for his own well-being. He always seemed to end up in the right spot. He was third on the team in special teams tackles in 2006 with 14.

He also had the fourth blocked punt of his seven-year career in a victory over Atlanta on Sept. 25, 2006 -- the first game played in the rebuilt Superdome following Katrina.

Gleason knows he'll be remembered for that play more than anything else. Some longtime sports observers here say the block, which resulted in the game's opening touchdown, sparked one of the loudest, wildest eruptions of cheering ever heard or seen in the stadium's storied history as a sporting venue.

"I don't think I've ever heard anything in my life louder than that moment," Gleason said. "Undoubtedly, as far as on the football field, the defining moment in my career will be that play. People are going to remember that moment for decades, you know? I'm honored to have my legacy be defined by that play.

"Another thing I'll always be proud of is that people in the city respect me because they saw how hard I worked and how hard I played," Gleason said. "They saw my effort on the field, the preparation. That's one thing I'll always be able to hang my hat on. I committed myself entirely to the play when I was on the field."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

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