Wyche keeps heart

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Sam Wyche couldn't believe it.

Here he goes on the radio in Cincinnati Thursday afternoon with old Bengals teammate Bob Trumpy and the next thing he knows people are trying to find him a new heart.

The phone is ringing with prayers and support and he's realizing he's created as much news as he did the night he banned a female reporter from the Bengals' locker room.

"So what else is new?" asked Boomer Esiason, his old quarterback. "Sam is still stirring it up, causing excitement. He's a unique guy and that made us unique."

"No, I'm not dead," said Wyche with that unique wit that marked his eight Kings-Island-never-dull seasons as head coach of the Bengals from 1984-91.

"There's nothing imminent," said Dr. Wyche, in Cincinnati Thursday visiting grandson Sammy and his family. "I'm just looking forward to taking my medication and living as normally as possible. A heart transplant is a last resort if the medication doesn't work. But so far it has."

To be sure, Wyche, 56, has a heart condition that imperils his life. It's called "idiopathic cardiomyopathy," which means doctors don't know why his heart has become enlarged and isn't pumping as well.

About a month ago, he thought he might need a transplant. But the pills worked and he's been told there's a distinct possibility he can keep taking the medication that allows him to live close to a normal life.

He's not thinking of the alternative and he's surprised others are.

"I wake up in the morning and I go about my life," Wyche said. "OK, I can't do as much as I used to. I can't do as much conditioning as I did. I can't snow shoe and I don't lift as many weights."

The condition also knocked him out of a possible return to the Bengals at the end of last season, when they began their search for an offensive coordinator.

Maybe others, including Wyche, didn't think his name was all that serious.

But Bengals President Mike Brown still has high regard for Wyche's offensive mind. Even if Wyche thought more with his heart the day he resigned/got fired? after a meeting with Brown that infamous Christmas Eve of '91.

Brown wanted to take a long look at Wyche in the club's effort to revamp the NFL's worst passing game.

But Brown was blown away when Wyche told him the extent of his heart problem and he couldn't do anything.

"Just shocking," Brown said. "You remember all that energy and to hear that, it was just shocking."

But with a month of the medication, Wyche isn't ruling out coaching after a brutally tough year physically.

The vocal cord problem that cost him his job as a CBS-TV analyst is only related to the heart condition in the sense it was one of the symptoms that led doctors to the problem.

"I wouldn't say I couldn't coach again," Wyche said. "Now, somebody might say, 'We can't have a guy with a condition like that coaching.'"

Esiason, the man who took Wyche's offense to a Super Bowl, two playoffs and the top of the NFL stats, was encouraged when he saw Wyche at the Super Bowl two weeks ago.

"He looked much better than he did

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a few weeks before that," Esiason said. "Let's face it. We all love Sam. When I saw him at the Super Bowl, the memories just came rushing back."

Name a Wyche memory?

"How can you?" Esiason asked. "There are a thousand of them. I hope to God he gets through this. If a guy can overcome this, it's Sam. He's got the humor and the toughness."

Esiason recalled the day Wyche told him the urgency of his situation. The day before, Esiason had been at a national organ donor press conference.

"I don't know what's going to happen," Esiason said. "You just hope he beats it."

Wyche says he will.

He's been fighting since the end of the 1999 season, when he couldn't shake double pneumonia. A doctor's visit revealed he had a huge blood clot around each lung. When they went into fix that, they were alarmed to find enlarged lymph nodes. They took out 14 nodes and ruled out cancer, but the nerve to his left vocal cord was damaged after the procedure.

If gags and pills are all he needs to beat it, he's in good shape.

"Hey, tell people to stop worrying," Wyche said. "There's bigger things happening. They're shooting at George W. in the White House."

But he's not as fun as Sam.

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