Steelers' stress no reason to drop dead
Terry O'Neill could have saved them the effort.
The medical journal Clinical Cardiology released a study Monday in which researchers concluded the emotional stress of watching your favorite team lose the Super Bowl could increase your risk of a heart attack.
Is that information in any way useful as the Steelers prepare to meet the Green Bay Packers on Sunday in Super Bowl XLV• O'Neill believes not.
"I could have told them that," he said. "That's especially true if you're predisposed to heart disease or have (an underlying) medical condition -- and it can happen if your team wins or loses."
O'Neill, 54, of Arlington isn't a physician. He's a retired stationary engineer.
But having suffered the most famous coronary incident in Steelers history in January 2006, he can be considered an expert in these matters.
O'Neill wasn't watching the Super Bowl when he had his heart attack. He was viewing a playoff game between the Steelers and Indianapolis Colts that the Black and Gold won en route to their Super Bowl XL championship.
O'Neill was at Cupka's Cafe in the South Side, downing drinks, eating hot sausage and enjoying the atmosphere -- until Jerome Bettis' memorable, stress-inducing fumble late in the fourth quarter nearly cost the Steelers the game.
What happened to O'Neill next made national headlines.
"When (Bettis) fumbled, I felt these three little bumps in my chest and I slid out of my chair," he said. "My buddies thought I was kidding until I started turning blue."
O'Neill awoke in the hospital to find the Steelers had hung on to win, and that he was in dire need of a pacemaker. O'Neill decided to make significant changes to his diet and lifestyle, and said adhering to the alterations wasn't difficult.
"I was clinically dead for a while," he said. "When you see that white light, that kind of gives you the willpower."
O'Neill's weight has dropped from 315 to about 240, although he still isn't in ideal health.
"I have my good days and bad days," he said. "I walk with a cane, I get tired easily, and I'm not supposed to get too excited over anything."
The risk of becoming immersed in the city's collective stress is the main reason O'Neill won't watch the Super Bowl at Cupka's or some other South Side tavern. He plans to view it at home.
"My wife has learned a lot about football over the past few years," he said. "She'll make some food, we'll sit here in the living room and watch it together."
You'd be surprised at the O'Neills' menu. It includes hot sausage.
"I know, I know -- same thing I had the day of my heart attack," he said. "But I rarely eat red meat any more, and I'm only going to have one sausage. Everything in moderation these days."
"I won't allow myself to get too upset no matter what happens," he said. "As much as I love the Steelers, I just can't afford to let them get me all worked up."
Considering O'Neill's experience and the Clinical Cardiology findings, that's a sensible Super Bowl game plan for anyone to follow.
Nevertheless, come Sunday expect composure to be in short supply around here.