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Gleason And Fujita Are Still 'Patron Saints'

Steve Gleason (center) is a local hero who captured hearts again in 2011 by going public with his personal struggle (Photo: Parker Waters).Steve Gleason (center) is a local hero who captured hearts again in 2011 by going public with his personal struggle (Photo: Parker Waters).

Few football fans and certainly no Saints fans will ever forget the 2006 Saints and what they did for the City of New Orleans.

If by some chance you have forgotten or don't know the story, well....I'd like to recommend a great little book titled PATRON SAINTS. I like it, but then again, I wrote it. More on that in a moment.

When Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis and newly hired Head Coach Sean Payton set out to rebuild the team, they placed a great deal of emphasis on character. Yes, they wanted talented players, but they were maybe willing to pass on some very talented players who, perhaps, were a little lacking in character.

Of course, no true Who Dat needs to be reminded of what Drew Brees has done for New Orleans, both on and off the field. Sean Payton has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help rebuild the region after Hurricane Katrina and most recently, to aid those effected by the horrific BP Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Free agent linebacker Scott Fujita also made an immediate impact both on and off the field. In addition to supporting numerous charities, including my personal pet charity, The Children's Bureau of New Orleans, the California native joined the fight against erosion of the Louisiana coastline. On behalf of then Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu, I had the honor of handing Scott a key to the state for his efforts. Sadly, it was given to Fujita as he left his adopted state en route to a more lucrative contract in Cleveland.

Fortunately for New Orleanians, Scott Fujita has kept his ties to the city and his home in the Warehouse District. Friends like me and dozens more are blessed to have him around. Lately, one friend of Scott's has benefited even more so in his own time of need.

Most Saints fans know the current heroic battle being fought by Steve Gleason against the cruelty of MLS, aka Lou Gehrig's Disease.

Steve Gleason gave us the perhaps most memorable moment in Saints when he magically blocked that punt against the Falcons on the night we all returned to the Superdome. He not only lifted our spirits, he raised the roof on what we believed could happen for our team, for ourselves, and for what we could become and accomplish together. Many tears were shed on that evening.

With our city on the mend, both team and fans have rallied this year around Steve Gleason and bolstered his spirits and his belief that anything is possible.

On a beautiful California day, just a few weekends ago, I was walking the sidelines of San Francisco's Candlestick Park prior to the Divisional Playoff game between our Saints and the NFC Western Division Champion 49ers.

I saw Steve Gleason sitting behind the team bench soaking in the sunshine and as I moved over to say hello, I saw the towering Scott Fujita standing at his side. Always smiling, Fujita was there as he has been, privately and quietly supporting his close friend.

Scott Fujita has proven to be an even better friend than teammate.Scott Fujita has proven to be an even better friend than teammate.

There are many good reasons why the two men are such close friends and it has less to do with football and more to do with character, that same character that Loomis and Payton saw in both men. You'll never hear Steve or Scott say anything negative. You won't hear them cast doubts. To each man, the mountain ahead can be climbed and the ocean over the hill can be sailed.

A San Francisco radio station heard about Gleason's battle and how this band Patron Saints had joined the fight. They asked Fujita to talk about it on a show and he agreed. More stations and even satellite radio channels have had Scott on. He doesn't talk about his career or make Super Bowl predictions. He raises awareness of and raises money for Team Gleason and its hope of one day finding a cure for this horrible disease. The response has so far has been amazing.

Like anyone, I'll never forget my memories of a game won down in Miami and of that shiny Lombardi Trophy being raised in honor of our New Orleans. But as time puts all memories in perspective, I remember more the men who made great things happen back when we need great things to happen. I hope I will remember too these amazing men who are making great things happen now.

I closed PATRON SAINTS with a quote from Scott that still brings tears to my eyes.

"I have had some time to think about this," Fujita said. "I had never been in a place where the partnership between the team and the community was so real and genuine, like they really were in the whole thing together. It just made my experience so much more than just about football. As a player, you always hope that you are going to win a Super Bowl, and that would be great, but that's a game. This was something entirely different.

"If I could wish one thing for every guy who ever plays football, it would be that just once in his career, just one time, he gets to experience something like this. I don't think anybody, fan or player, will ever forget this. We didn't bring home some big shiny trophy, but we got this moment, what we all came together and did for each other. We didn't need a trophy. The City of New Orleans is our trophy," Fujita concluded.

Given the choice of a shiny trophy or to be in the company of great men doing great work, I'd choose the latter. As each of us joins these men, we become part of a championship fight. Together we are champions. Champions are not made or crowned, champions are revealed. Once again, on the field and off, we are blessed to have our champions, our Patron Saints. Team Gleason and each member, player or fan, is a Champion in every way shape and form.

 

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