TAMPA — For Michael Koenen, there are few more frustrating plays a blocked punt.
But the Bucs punter said he's honored one of his failures has been immortalized by the Saints because he will forever be associated with a man who continues to inspire him.
Friday, the Saints unveiled a 9-foot bronze statue outside of the Superdome titled Rebirth. It depicts Steve Gleason fully outstretched in blocking a punt by Koenen — then with the Falcons — on Sept. 25, 2006. It sparked New Orleans' 23-3 victory in its first game at the rebuilt stadium damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
Gleason, 38, who is retired and battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease), said the statue symbolizes the perseverance of the city. Koenen, 30, met Gleason last year, when the Bucs played in New Orleans.
And when he heard about the ceremony, he tweeted him, "Awesome day for an inspirational man … God bless you in your fight partner! Half of me likes your statue."
"He's got an amazing fight on his hands, and he's a real quality guy," Koenen said Wednesday. "I have no problem with celebrating somebody's triumph."
The statue doesn't have Koenen's name or the Falcons logo on it because the team refused to grant the sculptor permission, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Falcons president Rich McKay told ESPN.com while it was an "incredible" moment for New Orleans, after discussing it with the league, they didn't believe it was appropriate to have their marks on it.
Koenen said he wouldn't have minded if they used his name, and might check out the statue when the Bucs head to New Orleans for a Dec. 16 game.
"At the time, it was very frustrating, and I never want that again," Koenen said of the blocked punt. "But for him, I'd never change it. And I'm happy for them. I'm glad they're able to celebrate."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]