Telling the Steve Gleason story.
I've been tracking Gleason, the former Saints special-teams ace, diagnosed with ALS last January, for a story that will run on NBC's Super Bowl pregame show Sunday. My last trip to New Orleans was Wednesday. It's been a memorable few visits with Gleason and his wife, Michel, and their son, Rivers, particularly seeing how noble and human Gleason is handling the ultimate punch in the gut: how every muscle in his body is slowly but surely breaking down and failing him.
I won't tell the story here; it'll run later in the pregame show. But when I started reporting it in the fall, Gleason, 34, was insistent that it not be a sob story about an athlete whose athleticism is being robbed. "I don't feel sorry for myself, and I don't want anyone else to,'' he told me in November. "All I want is to be able to help some ALS patients, show them they don't have to give up when they're diagnosed.''
I agreed. I said we at NBC would tell his complete story, with an eye on what he hopes to accomplish for ALS patients. Which I think we've done. You can judge when you see the story Sunday.
But something happened on the way to doing the story. Michel, his wife, is tremendously real and emotional. Steve is valiant and well-spoken. ALS is eating away at Gleason's legs and torso; he is now using a walker. It's impossible to experience the Gleason story and not be touched, and not get choked up. Impossible, unless you're a totally unfeeling person. And so last week, when I was in New Orleans, I spoke with Steve and Michel about the story. I didn't want to blindside them, because there is some sadness and some inspiration and a few tears in the piece. "It has to be this way,'' I told them. "You can't tell this story antiseptically, or any ALS patient and family members who watch it will say, 'That's not real. That's a bunch of BS. That's not my life.' '' They agreed. I didn't tell them that to seek their approval. I told them because this is the way it had to be to be real.
I am a TV story neophyte. The heavy lifting here was done by producer Phil Parrish and his dogged production assistant, Paige Westin. I think we've all gained respect for what ALS patients go through every day to live lives something close to normal and dignified. The thing I have appreciated most is seeing the feeling and the love Michel's family, the Variscos, have for Steve, this newest member of the family from the Pacific Northwest. The other day, Michel drove me to the vacant lot catty-corner from the Varisco home, where Michel's grandfather lived until flooding from Hurricane Katrina ruined his home. Now Michel and Steve have the blueprints for a home there, and they hope to build it and be in it by late this year.
"It's cool,'' Michel said. "It's like recycling. It's going to be great to have my family so close by, because let's face it, I'll need them.''
With a baby, and with a husband who needs more care as each day passes, she'll need the help.
"This family is my support system,'' said Gleason. "The support system is my force shield. It's harder for the desperation, the anxiety, the depression, to creep in.''
Hope you enjoy the story. I'll tweet a little more about it as we get closer to Sunday.
"I got more.''
-- Giants coach Tom Coughlin, asked if he has the same energy he had 17 years ago, when he took over the coaching of the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars.
"I never had too much hospitality here, until I went for it on 4th-and-2. Since then, I've been greeted in a lot more friendly manner than I ever was in the past."
-- Patriots coach Bill Belichick, upon arrival in Indianapolis Sunday evening. The Leno line comes from his view that the natives must love him since the Patriots went for it, and failed, on 4th-and-2 in their own territory with a late lead against the Colts in 2009.
"When you are younger, you think there's a wise man behind that door with a white beard, and you can go see him and he'll tell you the answers. But that man is not there.''
-- Indianapolis owner Jimmy Irsay, to Judy Battista of the New York Times in an excellent piece Sunday about the major franchise decision he faces with Peyton Manning.
"Our team will be built around a humble unselfish attitude of sacrifice. It's hard to find in today's world. But that's who we'll be.''
-- New Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano.
"I can't even put into words what he's meant to the franchise and to the family. My mother still refers to him as her 12th child. He has taken very good care of our players and our family, including my father for many, many years. I would venture to say he's the most valuable player in this franchise. He was at my father's bedside for most of the final six weeks or so that he was in the hospital [in 2005]. He took such care of him. They had a special bond. I get emotional even thinking about it, how he cared for him during that final period."
-- Giants president, CEO and co-owner John Mara, on longtime athletic trainer Ronnie Barnes' care of the Giants players and late owner Wellington Mara, to Tara Sullivan of The (Bergen) Record. Barnes told Sullivan: "Every day of my life I think about Mr. Mara. We are really stewards of his company.''
I know the Maras, and I know Barnes. The affection and regard on both sides is 100 percent real.
The Strange Case of Tom Coughlin vs. Marv Levy:
I'm one of the 44 Hall of Fame voters, and it's hard not to see how eerie the numbers are when you compare Levy (Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2001) to Coughlin .... making it hard to see how Coughlin is not going to have a pretty fair argument to be bronzed one day -- particularly if he coaches at a high level for another two or three years.
|Comparing Marv Levy and Tom Coughlin|
Great note purloined from John Altavilla of the Hartford Courant:
Two days after the UConn women won the national championship in 2004, coach Geno Auriemma began coaching his 15-year-old son Michael's AAU team, Connecticut Nike Elite. On the team with Michael was a 15-year-old athletic forward from Bristol, Aaron Hernandez. Do the timeline on this: Auriemma began coaching the team in 2004, two months after Tom Brady led the Patriots to their second Super Bowl, and here was Hernandez, a freshman in high school, trying to make his way as a basketball player. "Aaron could have been a Division I basketball player,'' Auriemma told Altavilla. Brady, two-time Super Bowl quarterback. Hernandez, pimply high school frosh.
Hernandez, of course, went on to play football at Florida as Tebow's tight end. And he was the Patriots' fourth-round pick in 2010, and he's caught 124 passes from Brady in two years with the Patriots. Auriemma said his son will sometimes call and say things like, "Dad, Aaron and Tom Brady are butting heads after a touchdown pass. It's the most incredible thing you can imagine.''
Mike Mayock will find a beer and a beach today in Hawaii. And he'll try to think about something other than football for a few minutes.
He spent a week in Tampa, beginning two weeks ago, for the East-West college all-star game, doing the game telecast for NFL Network. Last week, he was in Mobile for the Senior Bowl, on NFL Network Saturday afternoon. Right after the game Saturday, he buzzed to the Mobile airport and flew to Los Angeles, getting in before midnight and checking into an airport hotel. He had a 5 a.m. wakeup call and 7:30 a.m. flight to Honolulu. By 12:30 Honolulu time, Mayock was on the field for warmups prior to the Pro Bowl. "Didn't we just see you on TV in Mobile?'' one of the Houston assistants (Texans coaches were the AFC coaching staff for the Pro Bowl) said to Mayock.
He did the Pro Bowl game on NBC, then went back to his hotel. He said he was tired, but happy.
"I'm like Ernie Banks,'' he said. " 'Let's play two.' ''
The old Cub used to say he loved doubleheaders. More of a good thing was his theory. Same with Mayock. He'll get a couple of days off, then fly to Indianapolis for a Thursday night NFL Network show.
"what if we judged nothing?''
--@RickyWilliams, the Baltimore running back, at 2:08 a.m. ET Saturday.
"what if we didn't pretend to be less than we are in order to not rock the boat? what would your life look like?''
--@RickyWilliams, at 2:10 a.m.
"I've notice that just by asking these questions, I feel lighter. Also I notice things popping in my mind which impose on the lightness.''
--@RickyWilliams, at 2:15 a.m.
1. Like, wow, man.
2. I would pay to see a Ricky Williams-Jim Irsay tweet-off.