The Saints spent the 2005 season, like most New Orleanians, in exile. They played “home” games in Baton Rouge and San Antonio and, throughout the season, fans faced the possibility of a worst-case scenario: that the team could be moved to another city. But the Saints returned, and won their emotional 2006 home opener against their longtime rival Atlanta Falcons 23–3 on Monday Night Football.

Steve Gleason’s blocked punt early in the game led to a touchdown and an eruption from the more than 70,000 fans in the stands, a mass release of emotion pent up from a year of loss, frustration, and doubt. The moment of Gleason's play is enshrined in bronze outside the Superdome, in Brian Hanlon's 13-foot-tall statue fittingly titled "Rebirth," and seared indelibly in the memory of Saints fans: Steve Gleason hurling his body to block a punt that was recovered for a New Orleans touchdown in the opening minutes of the first home game after Hurricane Katrina. The Superdome, used as a refuge of last resort during the storm, had come to represent the suffering wrought by Katrina. The reopening of the Dome and the return of the beloved Saints the night of September 25, 2006, delivered a catharsis that the entire country witnessed, via national broadcast, as the announcers fell silent after Gleason’s play and let the roar of the crowd tell the story.

In the years that followed, as New Orleanians struggled to rebuild, the Saints became their champions both on and off the field. Under the leadership of new coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees, the team reached a level of success never achieved in franchise history. This post-Katrina era in Saints history culminated with the team winning its first Super Bowl on February 8, 2010. Outside the lines, players like Brees and Gleason, through charitable organizations such as the Brees Dream Foundation and Team Gleason, have had a significant impact on the New Orleans community and beyond. Gleason continues to inspire fans in his fight against amyotrophic lateral scleroris (ALS), with which he was diagnosed in 2011. His Team Gleason Foundation raises awareness about the disease and helps people with ALS live their lives to the fullest. For his work, Gleason recently became the first NFL player to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. 

Education Resources

  • Click here to listen to oral histories from Saints players and others about the "Katrina Season." 


Steve Gleason’s blocked punt (signed by Gleason)
original image, 2006; reprinted, ca. 2016
by Bill Feig, photographer
The Historic New Orleans Collection, gift of Team Gleason, 2019.0206.2

Sean Payton during the Saints’ Super Bowl victory parade
by Keely Merritt, THNOC staff photographer