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Former Bengals head coach Sam Wyche “thankful for a second chance at life”

As we embark on the Thanksgiving holiday, one Cincinnati Bengals historical figure has quite a bit to be grateful for this year.


The Cincinnati Bengals are in the middle of a disappointing 2016 season and fans are once again pointing the finger at head coach Marvin Lewis. Even though he’s frustrated many with his inability to get the team over the hump in his tenure, he still has done many good things for the franchise and is the winningest coach in team history.

Even so, Lewis might not be the most revered head man in Bengals’ lore. Paul Brown, the architect of seven championships with the Cleveland franchise that bears his name and creator of Cincinnati’s pro football team, usually sits at the helm of the Bengals’ Mount Rushmore. But, another coach who last led the team to the Super Bowl is usually at the forefront of fan popularity.

Sam Wyche, who last coached the Bengals in the 1991 season, still has ties to the team even though he’s gone on to other career endeavors. Unfortunately, Wyche has had some severe health problems and recently needed a heart transplant to survive. He received it, and at 71 years old, got a new lease on life.

“I’m thankful for so many things,” Wyche said, via The Charlotte Observer a couple of days before the Thanksgiving holiday.. “But mostly I’m grateful for a second chance at life I got from an organ donor. Someone else had the foresight to say that if anything ever happens to me, the last gift I’m going to give on this planet is the gift of life for somebody else.”

Before the heart transplant procedure, Wyche was placed under hospice care by doctors at the Carolinas Medical Center. However, the very same day doctors gave him the grave news about his heart condition, a donor heart became available and he was set to have surgery the next day.

“It means more to me than any other Thanksgiving because, by all rights, I shouldn’t be here,” Wyche said to Peter King in the MMQB podcast this week. “The nurses and the doctors said ‘You’re over the limit. Probably past it—right to the edge.’”

Aside from the emotions from Wyche incited on the show, King and he also reminisced about the Sports Illustrated writer’s tenure as a beat writer for the team in the 1980s. A particularly interesting part of their conversation revolved around the first year of Wyche’s tenure—particularly the 1984 NFL Draft. Whether it was Steve Young eschewing the Bengals at No. 1 overall and all other teams for the USFL or Wyche’s tipping of the hand to King on his plan to select Boomer Esiason and Stanford Jennings, it was a nice trip down memory lane.

But, as the discussion evolved back to Wyche’s health issues, the former Bengals coach relayed the information that he was initially given a 2-5 day window for needing a heart transplant before he possibly passed away. After the successful conclusion of the procedure, the nurses and doctors told him that that might have been a generous timeframe.

Before his surgery and during his recovery process, Wyche had an unlikely visitor in the hospital. Jerry Richardson, owner of the Carolina Panthers and a recipient of a heart transplant himself in 2009, spoke with Wyche in what to expect in the process.

“No. 1, I remember that Sam felt like he knew what he had in front of him and really didn’t,” Richardson said of their exchange to The Charlotte Observer’s Scott Fowler via email. “The real challenge is after surgery is over with the loss of appetite, and I explained he would have to force himself to eat and drink and do what the doctors said to do.”

Even though Wyche was in good shape for his age, he hasn’t been immune to health issues over the years. After his coaching days, Wyche was a color analyst and studio host for CBS from 1996-2000 until his voice gave out on him. He had surgery on his vocal cords, but unfortunately, they were severed during the procedure. He has had a signature raspy voice since.

The former coach’s surgery was concluded right before the Bengals had an important Thursday night game at home in Week 4 game against the Miami Dolphins. In the lead-up video before kickoff, an emotional montage was shown featuring Wyche, including an affable exchange via Face Time between he and Lewis.

Wyche’s story teaches us so much during this time of year. Of course, almost every Bengals fan loves Wyche and is happy to see him on the mend. Carefully monitoring one’s health, even when seemingly healthy, is another lesson. Being thankful for what we have, especially family and friends is another. However, as Wyche says, exploring one’s purpose and evaluating how to give back is another.

“You feel you’ve been spared for a reason,” Wyche said, while reflecting on who his heart donor was. “Now the search starts – what is that reason that God gave you another chance in life? Because that is exactly what has happened.”