Thirteen months following the devastating destruction of Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Saints returned home to the Superdome against the Atlanta Falcons. With roughly 13:30 left in the first quarter, number 37 in black and gold crossed from the right side to the left side of his defensive line. The ball was on the Falcons 20 yard line, it was fourth down and Atlanta had their punting unit out.
The ball was snapped and the stadium filled with New Orleans fleur-de-lis stood up and saw one of the rarest plays in football. A blocked punt. Steve Gleason rushed through the middle of the Falcons line and dove superman style into the punt. His hands and arms fully reaching, it re-directed the punter’s kick, and the ball bobbled back nearly 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage, leading to a Saints score.
For nearly a minute after the score, the television broadcasters stayed silent as more than 75,000 fans chanted, screamed and cheered while the world watched the Saints channel a rebuilding city’s emotions within the first few minutes of its first game back home.
Michael Smith, ESPN’s co-host of the SC6 and New Orleans native was on the sidelines taking it all in.
“I’ve never heard a stadium that loud and I’ve never felt an energy in a city like that night,” Smith told DIME.
Born and raised in the Big Easy, Smith started his journey as a journalist in high school, where he spent time as an intern with the Times-Picayune, the local daily paper in New Orleans. At the time, he was a good writer but he didn’t have an itch or driving desire to do it as a future career. But as he moved to college, it became something that sparked more interest. Attending Loyola University, a small, private institution in New Orleans, he got a call for a summer sports internship from the Times-Picayune, something they’d never had before.
“They called me,” Smith says of the internship opportunity. “I said, ‘wait, you’re going to pay me to write about sports? Sure, that’s not a bad way to spend the summer.'”
He took a liking to sports journalism after that summer in his freshman year of college. So he continued to work at the paper and for a semester, he was also the sports editor of the college publication, the Loyola Maroon.