Thirteen years later, another Falcons coach has a heart scare

The best post-bypass regimen? Do the Dirty Bird. (AJC file photo)

The recommended post-bypass regimen? Win the NFC title, do the Dirty Bird. (AJC file photo)

UPDATED AT 8:45 P.M.

Flowery Branch – Twenty-four hours earlier, Mike Smith had been in a Charlotte hospital being examined after experiencing chest pains in the wake of a frazzling game. On Monday night he finished a walk-through practice and met the media and, being the self-effacing Mike Smith, said it was “kind of embarrassing to be talking about it.”

He shouldn’t be embarrassed. Far better to feel sheepish after not having a heart attack than to do the strong silent act and keel over. Smith and the Falcons’ doctors did the right thing, and if any organization has cause to know what the right course is, it’s this.

Earlier Monday, a man who once held Smith’s job recalled his warning signs that occurred almost 13 years ago to the day. “I just looked at my iPhone to make sure of the date,” Dan Reeves said. “The game [in New Orleans] was Dec. 13 [1998]. I had surgery on the 14th.”

As he spoke, Reeves was awaiting the final round of, believe it or not, a scheduled stress test. “I haven’t had one in four years,” he said, and it’s fair to say that a life outside the NFL — Reeves hasn’t coached since the Falcons fired him in December 2003 — is somewhat more sedate than the position he held, at three different stops, for 23 seasons.

“Every job has stress, especially in this economy,” Reeves said. “Football is more a seasonal thing.”

Then: “There are more stressful jobs, but there aren’t many.”

Joe Gibbs used to sleep in his office before retiring from the Redskins to the quiet existence of owning a NASCAR team. Dick Vermeil retired from the Eagles at age 46, citing burnout. (Much later, he would resurface with the Rams and the Chiefs.) An NFL coach works with some of the healthiest people in the world, but his health is an iffier proposition: It’s hard to exercise and eat right when you’re spending days — and nights — watching film.

Dec. 13, 1998: The Falcons were playing in the Superdome, and during the National Anthem Reeves felt a burning sensation in his throat. He mentioned it to doctors afterward. (The Falcons won 27-17, their seventh consecutive victory.) The next morning he was examined at Piedmont Hospital. An angiogram revealed blockages in three arteries. By 10:30 a.m., he was undergoing quadruple-bypass surgery.

Said Reeves: “I was very lucky. It was almost a miracle. If I hadn’t said something about the symptoms …”

Reeves was 54 when he had his bypass. Mike Smith is 52. Reeves hadn’t known until a reporter called seeking comment that Smith had been taken to the hospital, but the older man spoke from sobering experience. “They wouldn’t have let him leave [the Charlotte hospital] if there’d been something really wrong,” he said.

Sure enough, Smith was back at work Monday, business almost as usual. Reeves knew that feeling, too. “Back then, if they’d told me I couldn’t coach it would have been more stressful than coaching,” he said, and 26 days after surgery he was on the sideline as the Falcons beat San Francisco 20-18 in an overwrought playoff game.

The next weekend he worked the most famous game in team history — the epic overtime victory over mighty Minnesota for the NFC championship. Talk about the ultimate stress test: A man has a quadruple bypass and then, barely a month later, leads a long-suffering franchise to the Super Bowl.

Reeves became a spokesman for the anti-cholesterol drug Zocor. (He now takes Crestor, Zocor having gone generic.) But even he, who knew the risks as well as anyone, found it tough sticking to his regimen. “My HDL — that’s the good cholesterol — wasn’t getting above 40 after I got fired because I didn’t feel like exercising.”

After a heart episode, Reeves said, a person has to change “everything — you have to watch what you eat and you have to exercise.” But what about stress? Can it be controlled?

Reeves spent five more seasons as Falcons coach and made another playoff run in 2002 without another coronary incident. Still, Reeves conceded that “stress is a huge thing,” and Smith has another game to work on a short week. (The Falcons play Jacksonville on Thursday night.) “He’s had some real tough games lately, big games,” Reeves said.

Is there such a thing as a stress-free NFL game? “No,” Reeves said. “None of them are easy.”

Said Smith: “Any time you’re in a short week, there’s stress involved.”

Smith declined to offer diagnostic specifics, but he did allow that he would have to “evaluate some of the things you do when you’re not coaching the team.” As for the coaching part: That’s not changing.

“There are a lot of hours involved,” Smith said. “There are no 9-to-5 hours in this organization or this league.”

Like Dan Reeves said: There are more stressful jobs, but there aren’t many. And he would know.

By Mark Bradley

86 comments Add your comment

j

December 12th, 2011
11:59 am

todd grantham

December 12th, 2011
12:02 pm

Mark, the rush to be first is bad for my heart!

Mark Bradley

December 12th, 2011
12:03 pm

jeff Green

December 12th, 2011
12:10 pm

remember it well!

P B Orr

December 12th, 2011
12:13 pm

I’m hoping that Smith is just dealing with his gall bladder. That can cause chest symptoms and is quite distressing.

Mark Bradley

December 12th, 2011
12:14 pm

I’ve had a gallbladder attack. As I recall, that messed up my back, too.

Tiger Nation

December 12th, 2011
12:19 pm

Enter your comments here

Tiger Nation

December 12th, 2011
12:21 pm

I wish Coach Smith the best.

Mark, Tim Brando is reporting that Alabama fans heckled Les Miles as he entered the Heisman ceremony on Saturday night.

What a class act. We know they are just jealous because LSU beat them while they didn’t even win their division. That’s 9 out of the last 12 for the Tigers over the Tide lol

DC

December 12th, 2011
12:23 pm

it takes heart palpitations for Mark Bradley to post a blog….Red Fox would be rolling in his junkyard grave!

Nom Nom Nom Chucks....Taylor or Norris

December 12th, 2011
12:29 pm

MB, where you been? One article all week, that was stressfull.

Bill

December 12th, 2011
12:29 pm

I’ve had both..good to hear from Reeves..I thought he was a great coach. I also played against him and his brother in High School.
Welcome back Mark..

bjohndawg

December 12th, 2011
12:38 pm

Gallbladder is tough. That is one painful sucker.Had that and had to stop eating the fried foods. Which is really tough.

But coach is right. He would not have left the Charlotte hospital if it was serious.

Mark Bradley

December 12th, 2011
12:41 pm

Took a week off, Nom. I’ve arrived at that annual juncture where I realize I have more vacation days left than there are days remaining in the calendar year.

GTT

December 12th, 2011
12:43 pm

Off topic, but why does UCLA keep shooting itself in the head? Jim Mora. Wow.

Bill

December 12th, 2011
12:43 pm

Don’t blame you Mark..take’m son.

Mark Bradley

December 12th, 2011
12:50 pm

Kiffin and Mora. In the same city. Whoa, Nelly.

ViningsDawg

December 12th, 2011
12:51 pm

Hope coach can suffer through this short week… Hopefully the Falcons will not stress him out on Thursday.

Sean

December 12th, 2011
12:52 pm

Generic for Zocor is Simvastatin, not Crestor. Same classification of drug.

Andy

December 12th, 2011
12:52 pm

Good to hear from Dan Reeves. Hope he’s doing well.

same ol; same ol...

December 12th, 2011
12:53 pm

Bears v Broncos article discussing Tim Tebow…

Six passes were dropped by his receiving targets, including a certain 55-yard touchdown toss that went through Demaryius Thomas’ hands…

Deja vu, all over again (to quote Yogi Berra)…now that will hurt your heart…

What's up with the...

December 12th, 2011
1:03 pm

…Chiefs firing their coach 13 games into the season? Coouldn’t they wait 3 more weeks? Bad way to send a message to their players about “dedication” to the cause…

Nom Nom Nom Chucks....Taylor or Norris

December 12th, 2011
1:04 pm

Awesome problem to have Mark. Welcome Back.

reebok

December 12th, 2011
1:06 pm

I like and respect Dan Reeves, and I am glad he’s doing well. Glad Coach Smith is well, also.

phil

December 12th, 2011
1:07 pm

Glad Smith is seemingly ok…

Fire FG!

nola dawg fan

December 12th, 2011
1:08 pm

welcome back MB… miss your work, but even a scribe of your vintage should take a week off from time to time…

Good read above… who filled in for those last few games? It wasn’t Wade, wasn’t it the old Oregon coach?

Nom Nom Nom Chucks....Taylor or Norris

December 12th, 2011
1:12 pm

Yeah, Chiefs fire Haley less than a year after he took them to the AFC game? Granted I think Weiss was a major contributor, but come on man/…..

I hear Josh Mcdaniels is surfacing to be on the staff in some form or fashion. Why, I have no idea.

Chief Media Urologist

December 12th, 2011
1:12 pm

Makes the short week to the JAX game even shorter. Hang in there Smitty. Don’t know what kind of contingency plans the team has if the HC is on IR. Mularkey used to HC, though his lack of creativity with all the offensive tools he has at his disposal makes me wonder if there’s not a better solution….

Ed

December 12th, 2011
1:15 pm

Hopefully everything will be ok with Smitty he’s a great coach and this team plays so hard for him. I think this will unite this team even more.

Ted M

December 12th, 2011
1:16 pm

On a really short week no less.

IceMan

December 12th, 2011
1:17 pm

Maybe this means we’ll go to the Super Bowl this year.

Eric C.

December 12th, 2011
1:21 pm

Definitely glad to hear Coach Smith is ok. wow, remember when Reeves was out…Rich Brooks was the man. It was great to have a guy with so much experience come and step in for Dan even though the season was nearly over. I wonder if Mularkey would do so well?

Michael M.

December 12th, 2011
1:22 pm

It is a Sign. The Falcons are going back to the big game. History always repeats its self.

SNu Master

December 12th, 2011
1:22 pm

Glad you are back Mark

Whiskey Breath

December 12th, 2011
1:24 pm

Nice job Mark. I liked that you talked to Dan, it reinforces your topic.
Your article is really a heart story for all us. Everybody, get a check up or
it will catch you.

Rickster

December 12th, 2011
1:24 pm

When do you bring the heat, Mark???

My beloved Packers are 13-0 this season. They’re 19-0 dating back to last season.

It’s not Global Warming/Climate change that’s melting the “Frozen Tundra – it’s the red-hot Packers! :-)

Ted M

December 12th, 2011
1:26 pm

“History always repeats its self.”

I wonder who’s gonna solistit a prostitute this time?

Howdy Doody in a Helmet

December 12th, 2011
1:30 pm

Coach – glad to see you are back, but we’d rather have you 100% healthy if at all possible. Take the week, or longer, to get back to it. If we can’t beat the Jags without you, we have bigger problems.

I will be over here throwing 30 yard flutter balls out of bounds and working on my 3rd and 8 QB slide 3 yards short of a first.

jarvis

December 12th, 2011
1:37 pm

@Ted M, that’s funny cause I heard Eugene Robinson on the radio last Friday. He does gameday broadcasts down in JAX for the Jaguars.
Talk about your second chances.

david allen

December 12th, 2011
1:37 pm

you #$*&@@%## spanking we are , so get ready for some football , Matt & the boys are going to pull it togeather & play the best football we”ve ever seen in ATLANTA Ga, GO BIRDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

VEEDUB

December 12th, 2011
1:41 pm

This may give the team the drive to play with some heart for the rest of the season!!!!!!

VEEDUB

December 12th, 2011
1:42 pm

No pun intended!

Sonny Clusters

December 12th, 2011
1:43 pm

Coach used to tell us that “you gotta have heart” and we found it useful to remember that when we was at bat against a pitcher that had a good breaking ball. Ond day, we was able to hit a curve ball out of the park for a home run and a walk-off win and a journalist came up to us and asked how it felt and we told him it was all about heart. That touched his heart we guess because he started crying like a baby when we said that and he said he was going to write a story about our heart that would win a Pulitzer prize. We all went to the Dairy Queen after the game and he never wrote the story as far as we know.

D Fence

December 12th, 2011
1:46 pm

Howdy Doody in a Helmet – now thats a funny ID. Thanks for the laugh.
But he was on yesterday, granted it took 2 QTRS.

david allen

December 12th, 2011
1:48 pm

Falcols will beat the packers @ there place !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!to win the east

Wet Willie...keep on smiling

December 12th, 2011
1:55 pm

Green Bay will beat the sheet out of Atlanta. That is all.

Mark Bradley

December 12th, 2011
2:01 pm

Rich Brooks was the interim coach for two weeks, nola. The old Oregon coach. (Also the more-recent UK coach.)

oldmike

December 12th, 2011
2:06 pm

boy oh boy Sonny Clusters – what do you do for a living?

bill

December 12th, 2011
2:08 pm

Mark, Vermeil was 46 when he left the Eagles. He just felt 56.

Bo Duke

December 12th, 2011
2:08 pm

oh, you made it back……..great.

Time to start Bama/Saban bashing again!!

To all the UGA athletic supporters, Bama fans do not live in the past, its just that our past (along with the present and future) is soooooo much better than yours!!!!

To MB……. can’t wait to read your article on 1/10/12 when we will be celebrating our 14th NC

Mark Bradley

December 12th, 2011
2:13 pm

Talk about being burned out, eh, bill?

But thanks. I’ll fix it.