What lessons should the NFL learn from the death of San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Thomas Herrion after a preseason game last month?
Based on the findings of the Denver coroner's office, probably not too many. Those findings indicated that the conditions that produced Herrion's death probably don't apply to many other NFL players.
Amy Martin, who performed the autopsy on Herrion, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that Herrion had heart disease that likely produced a fatal cardiac arrhythmia following the 49ers' game in Denver against the Broncos on Aug. 20. Herrion collapsed in the locker room as the 49ers finished saying the Lord's prayer and was pronounced dead at St. Anthony Hospital in Denver later that night.
According to Martin and a written statement released by the coroner's office, Herrion suffered from ischemic heart disease, in which the flow of blood -- and, therefore, oxygen -- to the heart is impaired by a narrowing of arteries. The condition could have caused a heart attack or an arrhythmia that killed Herrion, said Martin, who indicated that she thought it was more likely to have been an arrhythmia -- an irregular heartbeat.
There were warning signs in Herrion's case: He had a family history of heart ailments and he was overweight. Martin said that both factors probably contributed to his death. Even so, Martin said it did not surprise her that Herrion's condition had gone undetected, given that it would not have been discovered by any of the tests normally given during a routine physical and his age -- he was 23 -- did not dictate that a doctor should have suspected he suffered from coronary heart disease.
NFL Players Association officials, including executive director Gene Upshaw, said they continued to believe in the wake of the coroner's findings that players throughout the league are given more than adequate annual physicals, but they plan to ensure that those physicals become more comprehensive in the future as medical science improves and allows that. Tom Mayer, a medical adviser to the players' union, said a cardiac catheterization is the only test that might have detected Herrion's condition, and there would have been no reason for a doctor to order such a test for a seemingly healthy person of Herrion's age.
Upshaw previously has said that all emergency medical procedures were followed properly after Herrion collapsed in the locker room. In recent years, according to Upshaw, a trauma-care physician has been required to be at every NFL game.
Herrion's death led to renewed public scrutiny of the issue of whether the NFL has a significant problem with the health of its players being affected by rampant obesity. Martin said Tuesday that Herrion's weight probably contributed to his death. He still might have died if he'd been lighter, she said, but one risk factor at least would have been reduced.
The league and the union already had begun to study the issue in depth even before Herrion died. But the lasting effect of Herrion's death might be the awareness that it raised among players around the league of the need for them to pay closer attention to their weight and its possible ramifications on their health.
Representatives of the league and the Players Association are scheduled to meet Thursday in an attempt to jump-start the sport's stalled labor negotiations.
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has been aiming toward having an extension of the sport's collective bargaining agreement completed next month. But the talks have been slow and the league postponed an owners' meeting scheduled for next week because of the lack of progress in the negotiations.
Saints' Ticket-Holders Get Priority
New Orleans Saints' ticket-holders will get the first opportunity to purchase tickets for the Sept. 19 game between the Saints and New York Giants at Giants Stadium.
According to the Giants, Saints' ticket-holders will be allowed to buy tickets for the game beginning Thursday. Giants' season-ticket holders will be allowed to begin purchasing tickets three hours later, and any remaining tickets will be put on sale to the public next Tuesday.
The game was moved by the NFL from the Superdome to Giants Stadium after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. It had been scheduled for Sept. 18 but was made part of a Week 2 Monday night doubleheader by Tagliabue, who has indicated that a portion of the gate proceeds will be donated to hurricane relief. . . .
Linebackers coach John Marshall is scheduled to serve as Seattle's defensive coordinator in Sunday's opening game at Jacksonville. He'll fill in for Ray Rhodes, who was hospitalized this week after suffering from dizziness. Rhodes was released from the hospital Tuesday but was ordered by doctors to rest and is scheduled to undergo further tests. . . .
Giants quarterback Eli Manning, returning from a preseason elbow injury, participated in the club's practice Tuesday and appears on course to starting Sunday's opener against the Arizona Cardinals.
T.O., McNabb to Chat
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens said in an interview with ESPN that he plans to speak to quarterback Donovan McNabb before and during Monday night's opener at Atlanta.
Owens and McNabb haven't been on speaking terms since Owens arrived at training camp last month. He criticized the quarterback's Super Bowl performance during the offseason, and called McNabb a "hypocrite" during a round of television interviews after he was banished from the team for a week by Coach Andy Reid for training-camp misdeeds.
Still, Owens's disenchantment with his contract and lack of communication with McNabb didn't hinder him when he caught a touchdown pass from McNabb on the first play of their first preseason game of the year together.
Garcia To Stay on Lions' Roster
The Detroit Lions plan to keep quarterback Jeff Garcia on their 53-man roster after learning Tuesday that he won't need surgery for injuries to his left leg that he suffered in the preseason finale.
The Lions expect Garcia to be sidelined for six to eight weeks. They'll keep him on the roster so that he'll be eligible to play for them at that point. If they would place Garcia on the injured reserve list, they'd gain a roster spot but Garcia would be ineligible to play for them this season.
Garcia has a broken fibula and a badly sprained ankle. The ankle appears to be the more troublesome injury.
At least for now, starter Joey Harrington and rookie backup Dan Orlovsky are the only quarterbacks on Detroit's roster. Unless the Lions sign another quarterback at some point, wide receiver Kevin Johnson is penciled in as the club's emergency third-stringer until Garcia returns. He once was McNabb's backup at Syracuse and he played four snaps at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns in 2000. . . .
The Pittsburgh Steelers hope to have linebacker Joey Porter in the lineup for Sunday's regular season opener against the Tennessee Titans. Porter underwent arthroscopic knee surgery four weeks ago.
But the Steelers probably will be without their top two tailbacks, Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley, against the Titans. Bettis will be sidelined by a strained right calf muscle and Staley, who underwent preseason knee surgery, probably will join him on the shelf. Willie Parker is scheduled to make his first NFL start. . . .
Pittsburgh signed wideout Quincy Morgan, just released by Dallas, and cut fellow receiver Lee Mays. . . .
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Brandon Stokley missed the entire preseason because of a dislocated shoulder but is slated to play Sunday night at Baltimore. . . .
The 49ers signed fullback Chris Hetherington, who'd been cut by Oakland, and released guard Tony Wragge. . . .
Rookie linebacker Channing Crowder beat out Donnie Spragan for a starting job on Miami's defense. . . .
The New York Jets made rookie Kerry Rhodes a starter at one safety spot. . . .
Rookie guard Elton Brown was named a starter in Arizona, ahead of incumbent Jeremy Bridges. . . .
Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Greg Brooks, who's from New Orleans, was given a leave of absence by the club so that he could tend to family matters in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. . . .
Tailback Stephen Davis, who's attempting to return from career-threatening microfracture knee surgery, agreed to a reworked contract with the Carolina Panthers in which he would receive a $1.25 million salary this season if he's on the IR list, compared to $2.2 million if he's on the active roster. Davis would be paid $129,412 for each week he's on the active roster, and $73,529 for each week he's on IR.