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Rams players, assistant coaches worry about Martz
By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Jim Hanifan, former head coach of the St. Louis football Cardinals, ex-Rams assistant and close friend of Mike Martz, didn't like what he saw Sunday morning at the Edward Jones Dome.
"I went back to (Martz's) office at the stadium, and, golly, he had an IV going at that time," Hanifan said. "He really was kind of pasty white, and I said, 'My gosh, my friend, you only have one life. For crying out loud, don't jeopardize your life.'"
Despite missing two days of practice last week, Martz was on the sideline Sunday when the Rams lost to the Seattle Seahawks 37-31. On Monday, Martz, 54, told the team that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence while undergoing treatment for a bacterial infection of a heart valve.
Although the players were well aware of Martz's illness, Monday's announcement came as a shock, veteran defensive end Tyoka Jackson said. "We you get hit like that, with a ton of bricks, you're just stunned," said Jackson, who has been with the Rams since 2001, a year after Martz replaced Dick Vermeil as head coach.
Still, Jackson said he was encouraged that Martz had put his wellbeing atop his priority list. "Family and health, that comes first," Jackson said. "This game is what we live for, but at the end of the day, it's still just a game. His health is more important than any of his stuff."
Defensive tackle Damione Lewis was asked what effect Martz's absence might have on the team, which stands 2-3 heading into Monday night's game at Indianapolis.
"We're all grown men, and we've been playing this game our whole life," Lewis said. "We've still got to go out there and take care of business."
Jackson pointed out that Martz would suffer in another way by being away. "It's going to be hard on him, because I know he's going to want to be here with us," Jackson said. "That's going to be hurting him."
The profession is an obsession for many coaches, Hanifan conceded, and personal health often is ignored.
"Coaches, you don't get sick in the football season," he said. "If you get a cold, you continue on. If you have the flu, you continue on. If you're limping around with a torn knee, you continue on. In a lot of ways, it's really stupid to do that. But that's the mentality."
Hanifan should know: In October 1999, he was rushed to a hospital from Rams Park after suffering chest pain. "That next morning I was having a cardiac catheter test. And the next thing I knew, I was in recovery" after undergoing an angioplasty procedure to open a 95 percent blockage in a small artery.
Hanifan returned to work two days later, and he figures that Martz will be itching to rush back, too. "We all get antsy, and I know that's how he's going to feel," Hanifan said. "This is his club, his team."
Assistant head coach Joe Vitt, who will take over Martz's duties, agreed. "Nobody put a gun to my head or Mike's head to coach in this business," Vitt said. "We love what we do, and there's a lot of passion for what we do."
But now that medical experts are calling the shots, Martz will be subject to their instructions, Hanifan noted.
"I'm sure that the doctors will really be on top of it and say, 'Hey, hold it, you're not going to do that,'" Hanifan said.