Pearl Jam provides soundtrack to life of former NFLer Steve Gleason

Producer Mike O’Connor goes from being inspired to compassionate, his speech goes from staccato to measured when talking about his upcoming Sunday NFL Countdown and E:60 piece focusing on former New Orleans Saints safety Steve Gleason.

“To meet Steve, and see how he relates to his almost-two-year-old son Rivers, stirs up a lot of emotions,” O’Connor said. “It’s equal part inspiring – he’s awesome – and equal part gut-wrenching. Doctors say he is going to die.”

Gleason is best known for blocking an Atlanta Falcons’ punt which was recovered for a Saints touchdown before an ESPN Monday Night Football audience Sept. 25, 2006 — the night the Superdome reopened after Hurricane Katrina. He was diagnosed with ALS in 2011. Gleason has found the music of Pearl Jam inspirational in his battle with ALS and in strengthening the bond with his son.

O’Connor, a Pearl Jam fan, said: “This piece is the most emotional I’ve done, for sure, and the one I feel the most connection to.”

Steve Gleason played seven seasons with the Saints. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Steve Gleason played seven seasons with the Saints.
(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The confluence of sports, rock, life-and-death and a paternal relationship began when Pearl Jam chose to promote their 10th studio album, Lightning Bolt, which drops Oct. 15, with a documentary featuring four personalities interviewing them about the upcoming CD. One of the interviewers chosen was Gleason, a former Washington State University star.

“The guys in the band are fans of The Magazine, and ESPN in general, so they offered us access to this, and I pitched it to the shows where I thought it would fit,” said ESPN The Magazine Senior Writer Alyssa Roenigk.

Gleason, from Spokane, Wash., has been friends with guitarist Mike McCready since the band first came to prominence in the Pacific Northwest. More than friendship, however, it was their conversations – including Gleason’s analogy of former teammate Drew Brees and Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder as leaders of their respective teams/bands – that prompted McCready to suggest Gleason as an interviewer.

That Vedder lost his father at a very young age — the Gleasons are fighting what is considered a terminal neuro-muscular disease with their “No White Flags” mantra — makes their one-on-one interview perhaps the most “gut-wrenching” part of O’Connor’s piece.

“Spending time with Steve Gleason and his family is a joy and a privilege,” said reporter Chris Connelly, who besides this piece also helped produce a feature on a healthy Gleason when the Saints star was leading a project to rebuild levees after Hurricane Katrina. “Anyone who’s been a music fan will appreciate the way Steve has spent the last 20 years absorbed by the songs of Pearl Jam, and will be touched by the band’s great respect and affection for him. Anyone who’s been a parent will be moved by the messages he is leaving behind for his young son. In his words, in his actions, in his being, Steve reminds us all that it is love which endures.”

Ed note: Steve Gleason: Soundtrack of My Life is scheduled to run on Sunday NFL Countdown (10 a.m. ET ESPN) and E:60 (Tuesday, 7 p.m., ESPN)

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  1. I don’t care who you are, if you don’t feel something from what Steve Gleason and his family are going through and wreckage that is going to be left behind, well, then you can’t feel anything at all. As someone who, like Steve, has relied on Pearl Jam to dig out of many holes over the past two decades, I am looking forward to seeing this piece and the reaction to it. As a Saints fan and avid Pearl Jam fan, I have seen two completely polar aspects of my life converge like I never expected them to. Hail hail the lucky ones, I refer to them in love.

  2. I’m a Falcons fan, but a bigger Pearl Jam fan! Our thoughts and prayers to the entire Gleason family! Great band, greater man (Gleason)!

  3. As a father and man from the era as both Steve Gleason and Perl Jam, I was floored watching this story. We all hope to leave our legacy for our kids. However, more importantly inspire them the become great men and husbands. Eddie Vetter has inspired millions despite not having his father and Gleason is inspiring his son in case he doesn’t have his in the near future.
    This story alone should inspire all of us dads that still have a chance to make a true difference.
    Thank you for this video.

  4. This hit home for me, I took care of my father who had suffered from ALS. IT is more than difficult to live with and through. The mental anguish and physical pain is a lot for loved ones to watch. There wasn’t much information out there about ALS at that time other than Lou Gehrig suffered from it and of course Dr. Kovorkian.
    I am much grateful for the press you are putting out there so people can and will learn about this horrid illness. Believe me my heart goes out to Steve Gleason and his family.
    Hoping God will provide us with a cure.



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