Rhodes must make health his priority
Oh no, it was happening again. The darkness creeping around the periphery of his vision. The vertiginous feeling that made this man, who...
Seattle Times staff columnist
Oh no, it was happening again. The darkness creeping around the periphery of his vision. The vertiginous feeling that made this man, who once lived his life feeling as if he were invincible, suddenly feel so vulnerable.
The Seahawks were flying back from Chicago early last Monday morning and their defensive consultant/coach Ray Rhodes, who last season surrendered his coordinator's role after suffering two stroke-like episodes, was feeling dizzy.
Earlier than night, the defense that he had helped construct, that finally was beginning to look and feel like one of the best in the game, had betrayed him.
It put no pressure on Chicago quarterback Rex Grossman. It gave up two touchdown passes and let the anemic Bears running game rumble for 143 yards. This defense that he has tough-loved like so many close relatives had allowed a disconcerting 37 points.
Rhodes' defense had been humbled.
And now this again.
That feeling of instability. That light-headed warning light that was telling him something wasn't quite right. Some small message being sent from the brain was getting scrambled.
Rhodes was feeling dizzy, and the properly conservative Seahawk doctors, knowing of Rhodes' previous episodes, decided the plane had to make an emergency landing, and Rhodes had to go to a hospital to be thoroughly examined.
The plane landed in Rapid City, S.D. Rhodes went by ambulance to a nearby hospital, and the Seahawks' charter arrived in Seattle at about 5 in the morning.
We can only imagine the combination of anger and frustration inside Rhodes, who has fought this most difficult fight of his life to get back on that plane, back on the practice field, back in the coach's booth and back in the game.
Rhodes is an NFL lifer. He came into the league as a wide receiver with the New York Giants in 1974, a player as tough as a right hook, who became a coach who pushed his players as hard as he pushed himself.
He is a football man who was so committed that when he played he used to hide smelling salts in his socks so he could inhale himself back to full consciousness if some helmet-rattling tackle briefly dazed him.
Football has sustained Rhodes. But now he had to wonder if it was killing him.
How is he supposed to handle that? It's not in the football manual.
When he returned from his first small stroke that struck just days before the beginning of the 2005 season, Rhodes said he realized taking care of himself was his most important project.
But he was brought up with the old-school belief that whatever the problem is, you shake it off and get back on the field.
You push through the pain. You ignore your body's warnings. You play or you coach. You do the job assigned to you.
Rhodes, however, isn't properly taking care of himself. He isn't practicing what his doctors preach.
The lightheadedness he felt on the plane apparently was caused by dehydration. He hadn't eaten enough on game day. He had forgotten to drink enough fluids.
I hope Rhodes, who turns 56 this month, coaches until he's 95. His passion and his competence are unquestionable. He belongs in the game.
And although John Marshall now is the very capable defensive coordinator, Rhodes' fingerprints are all over that side of the football.
But he has to start listening to his doctors and his body and realize he's no good to anyone if his blood pressure is on the rise, or if he is paying more attention to football than his health.
Rhodes can't become a distraction.
Marshall can't be looking over his shoulder during games, making sure Rhodes is feeling OK.
At last year's NFC Championship Game, when Carolina scored late, Rhodes exploded like the volcanic coach he is. And Marshall had to order him to the back of the press box. That can't happen again.
Head coach Mike Holmgren can't be checking on Rhodes every day, like a hall monitor, making sure his defensive consultant is leaving the office on time and not sneaking a couple more hours of tape study.
Coaches can't be wondering if Rhodes has had enough to eat, enough to drink.
The Seahawks players, whose affection for Rhodes is obvious, shouldn't have to be deeply afraid for his well-being because their charter had to make an emergency landing.
Last season, Rhodes, who had a second episode on Nov. 4, stood at the far end of the practice field, some 50 yards from the scrimmage line, observing, taking notes.
But this season, he has crept up the sideline at practice. He has been much closer to the action. Too close for his health.
This game that has sustained him also could kill him.
For the sake of his family, for the sake of his health, and for the sake of his team, Rhodes has to begin taking more seriously the ultimate consequences of his unhealthy behavior.
If he doesn't, he is going to force his good friend and boss Mike Holmgren to make a decision nobody in the Seahawks organization wants Holmgren to make:
To tell this tough football man, who belongs in the game, that he has to leave.
Take care of yourself, Ray. This Hawks season needs you.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or email@example.com
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
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