ShareThis Page
News Columnists

Steelers' stress no reason to drop dead

| Friday, Feb. 4, 2011

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."

Including excitement.

"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.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me