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Heroes Needed 

by Howie Stalwick & r & Steve Gleason is living in a hotel room. Busing to practices at a high school field. Lifting weights at Gold's Gym next to fat guys who work on the lube rack down the street. Steve Gleason, it should be noted, considers himself one of the luckiest people in the world.


Gleason, the Gonzaga Prep and Washington State graduate, flew out of New Orleans with the rest of the New Orleans Saints the night before Hurricane Katrina turned Louisiana's largest city into the world's largest swimming pool.


Not only did Gleason escape harm, but the house he had been living in (with teammate John Carney) escaped damage. Also, Gleason and all the Saints will soon get their cars back from New Orleans, and Gleason has already learned that his car suffered only some water damage to the interior. As we all know, tens of thousands were nowhere near as lucky.


And Gleason is back playing the game he loves. The Saints, who will play their 2005 "home" games in San Antonio, Texas (their base city for at least this season), Baton Rouge, La., and East Rutherford, N.J., opened the NFL season last Sunday with a dramatic 23-20 win over Carolina on Carney's late field goal.


"There's a feeling of community around the team," Gleason says from his San Antonio hotel room. "It's more like college, more like high school. It's like you're going out and playing for all the kids in your school and the alums.


"I'm from Spokane. It was a hometown feeling [on Sunday]. One of the downfalls of pro football is that a lot of that stuff is overshadowed by the financial aspects. If you lose a game, you still get paid.


"Deep down, I think everyone on the team wants to bring some joy to New Orleans. The way we can do that is by winning football games. Now it's more than a job."


Gleason, a valuable special teams player during his six years in the NFL (all with New Orleans), says the Saints were inspired by the standing ovation they received from Carolina fans when the team was introduced Sunday.


"That was incredible," Gleason says. "I think the people were applauding you as a team, but even more, they were applauding the people of New Orleans.


"It was electric. I got chills all over my body."


Not everything has gone as well off the field, of course. Many of the Saints, all of whom were housed in a New Orleans hotel during training camp, still don't know the status of everything they left behind. Some players don't know if their homes survived, and Gleason is just thankful that he failed in his recent attempt to find a home to purchase in the New Orleans area.


"Probably a dozen guys on the team in the last six months, whether they're rookies or free agents, bought houses," Gleason says. "They're all obviously stressed out."


The home and business of the parents of Gleason's girlfriend suffered severe flood damage. The Superdome, the Saints' stadium, may have to be torn down.


"As far as the New Orleans I know and love, I don't know if we'll ever have that again," Gleason says.


Gleason, his teammates and countless others in the NFL and other professional sports leagues are doing their part to help in the Gulf Coast recovery effort by donating funds and by visiting shelters. Gleason will pay for shipping and arrange the distribution of backpacks filled with school supplies that will be collected at WSU's game with Grambling in Seattle on Saturday.


Next week, Gleason and Carney plan to move into a two-bedroom apartment in San Antonio. Carney, like many of the Saints, decided it would be easier on his wife and children if they lived elsewhere this season.


"That sucks," Gleason says, "because people obviously like to see their family. It's kind of like we're on a business trip for five months."


Gleason adds that he doesn't know when he'll go back to New Orleans, but he's determined to help the city make it back.


"The attitude of the team is, 'Hey, all of us can replace our houses,'" Gleason says. "I've been in New Orleans for six years. My girlfriend is from New Orleans. I've got friends there. Those are the people who got hit the hardest.


"It's like if you're in Spokane and the entire Manito Park and South Hill area is just gone. It's like when you're a kid 4 years old and you have memories of running around and having fun -- like I have memories of Shadle Park -- and all those places you have memories of are gone.


"People in New Orleans who grew up there don't know if they can ever go back."

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