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I challenge anyone to watch "Gleason" and not think Steve Gleason, the heroic center of this warm-hearted documentary, isn't the nicest guy on Earth.

This isn't easy for me to say, because Gleason played football in high school and in college for the archrivals of the schools I attended. For a Washington Husky alum like me to say a Washington State Cougar is a great guy is close to a miracle.

"Gleason," an inspiring look at life, love and fatherhood that debuted at this year's Sundance Film Festival, follows Gleason's football career, family life and his battle against a horrific disease.

Steve is known to sports fans for his years as a safety for the New Orleans Saints. Fans in New Orleans remember his greatest moment in 2006, when he blocked a punt that led to the Saints' first touchdown in the post-Katrina Superdome. The play became a symbol of the team and the city's rebirth.

In 2011, three years after his retirement, Steve was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. ALS is a brutal neurological disorder that slowly robs its victims of control over their bodies. People with ALS, Steve is told, usually die within five years of their diagnosis, though there are exceptions — most notably, the physicist Stephen Hawking, who was diagnosed with a form of ALS more than 50 years ago.

Six weeks after learning he had ALS, Steve got another surprise: His wife, Michel Varisco-Gleason, was pregnant with their first child — a son, Rivers. Steve decided to create a video journal for his son, imparting life lessons he may not be around to deliver in person.

Director-editor Clay Tweed (who made the offbeat documentary "Finders Keepers") pored through mountains of footage, including those video diaries, to tell a moving story of the Gleason family working through their struggles.

Much of the focus, of course, is on Steve as he deals with the day-to-day chores of ALS, as well as launching a charity and becoming an advocate for people with debilitating diseases — and, on top of that, being a good father and husband.

There's also a fair amount of time devoted to Michel, as she copes with her shifting role as a caretaker, while being a good mother to Rivers and finding some space for herself through her artwork — some of which she created in hospital waiting rooms during Steve's treatment.

Tweel captures every emotion in "Gleason," as Steve and Michel laugh together, cry together and separately, and strive to carry on in the face of overwhelming odds. The Gleasons' story so beautifully told that it's hard to imagine anyone watching this movie and not smiling through tears.

Twitter: @moviecricket —



A football star and his family must cope with a dreadful diagnosis in this emotion-packed documentary.

Where • Megaplex 12 at The Gateway.

When • Opens Friday, Aug. 12.

Rating • R for language.

Running time • 110 minutes.