KNOXVILLE - The price paid for 15 NFL seasons is evident as he enters.
Joe Montana moves slowly, almost carefully, as he sits to conduct another in a series of interviews with area media at the downtown Hilton on Tuesday.
Joe Cool is 51 now. The three-time Super Bowl MVP turns with his torso to make eye contact, the result of surgery two years ago to fuse the spine in his neck.
The twinkling baby blues that charmed America out of its socks a
decade ago are still there. The right one, though, droops
occasionally, the product of nerve damage sustained during a Hall of Fame career that included four Super Bowl titles, eight Pro Bowl selections and two league most valuable player awards.
Theres the elbow injury that hastened his exit from San Francisco, the left knee soon to be replaced, the 12 surgeries, the six (documented) concussions.
Montana weathered it all and never flinched.
Then came "the silent killer," something all the toughness in the world can do nothing about. In 2002, the king of the comebacks was diagnosed with hypertension.
"I was surprised," Montana said. "I really didnt think a lot about it because I didnt have any symptoms before I went in. When you feel OK and you dont have any symptoms, you dont think about it."
A routine checkup four years ago revealed Montanas blood pressure was "sky high." Later the same day, he saw a cardiologist, where it was revealed one of Montanas arteries was partially blocked.
Medication has since brought the former 49ers high blood pressure under control. Grateful for the reprieve, Montana soon joined forces with cardiologist and preventive health expert James Rippe. Together, the pair launched BP Success Zone, a national education campaign to raise awareness of hypertension and promote testing.
Montanas wife, Jennifer, has signed on with the program to emphasize the importance of family support in keeping hypertension under control.
Montanas celebrity has helped raise awareness of hypertension as few others could, Rippe said. If it can strike a former NFL quarterback, one whose grace under pressure was much-renowned, the fact no one is immune is more likely to hit home.
"How could Joe Montana get high blood pressure?" Rippe said. "The answer is, I dont know.
"It really underscores anybody can get high blood pressure. Its one of the main reasons Joe is such an excellent spokesperson for this campaign."
That Montana felt no symptoms is why hypertension is commonly referred to as the silent killer, he added.
"If he hadnt gotten into an on-going discussion with his doctor, he would never have fixed this," Rippe said.
Tuesdays stop in Knoxville is part of a trek that has taken
Montana and Rippe to 68 cities the last five years, with another
130 locales reached by satellite tour. Interest has never waned, Rippe said.
"Five years down the road, theres still enormous interest about this problem," he said.
A leading authority on preventive cardiology, Rippe has written extensively on health and fitness, including such works as "Fit Over Forty," "The Healthy Heart for Dummies" and "The Healthy Heart Cookbook for Dummies."
Montana, who was forced to alter his diet to control his blood pressure, wrote the forward for Rippes latest work. The give and take between them while promoting the BP Success Zone program has helped lessen Montanas persona as a famous athlete and made him more of an everyman, Rippe said.
"Joe and I have become good friends," he said. "Joe is a good guy. What you see here is what you get. Hes very passionate about this, and Joe is a very honest guy."
Literature distributed Tuesday cites compelling statistics for the
programs necessity, Rippe said:
- An estimated 72 million, or nearly one in three adult Americans, suffer from high blood pressure.
- Approximately 67 percent of people with high blood pressure do not have it under control.
- High blood pressure is listed as a primary or contributing cause of death in approximately one in nine deaths per year.
- Over 50 percent of Tennessee residents aged 55-64 have been told by a healthcare professional they have hypertension.
- Approximately 40 percent of people taking hypertension medication still dont have their high blood pressure under control.
In spite of warnings, hypertension remains a wide-reaching health
issue that is little discussed, Montana said.
"You dont hear about high blood pressure because they have a means to control it," he said.
Football brought Montana fame, but it wasnt his first love. Hed been an All-State basketball player in high school. He turned down a scholarship to North Carolina State when Notre Dame came forward with an offer to play football.
With the toll football has taken on his body, Montana was asked if he ever regretted not signing with the Wolfpack. Hes still involved with the game, serving as coach of sons Nathaniel and Nicholas AAU team.
"I might not have been sitting here (if basketball had been the choice)," he said, "but I would have had a lot of fun."
Had Montanas hypertension not been diagnosed, Rippe said, the
what-ifs could have been infinitely more serious.