Two Great Coaches with a Heartfelt Bond

Coach Mike Ditka and Coach Tommy Myers share their stories 

Coach Mike Ditka and Coach Tommy Myers share their stories

On a perfect October evening for football, “Da Coach” ate at his restaurant, Mike Ditka’s. He wore his Super Bowl ring, ordered chicken soup and obliged dozens of fans who approached him for a handshake. This wasn’t out of the ordinary; Ditka and his wife, Diana, dine at his restaurant several days a week.

What was unusual were the guests at Ditka’s table. Sitting across from the legendary Bears coach and NFL Hall-of-Famer was sixty-yearold Tommy Myers, a man with whom Ditka shared some extraordinary similarities.

Restaurant patrons in Chicago didn’t recognize him, but in Lake Forest, Tommy Myers is every bit as famous as Ditka. A career coach, he’s been head football coach at Lake Forest High for 14 years and a defensive coach at Lake Forest College for the past eight years.

But Ditka and Myers’ similarities don’t stop at their years spent on the sidelines. Both Ditka and Myers suffered heart attacks while coaching. Both experienced the attacks on the original Halas Hall field of the Lake Forest College campus. Both were brought to Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital and treated by doctors from the same cardiology practice.

While their attacks happened more than two decades apart, the similarities were enough cause for the coaches and their wives to share a meal and recount what happened to Ditka in November of 1987 and to Myers in August of 2008.

As they shared their stories, the pair both said they were initially unaware of the gravity of their situations. “I’d get these pains in my neck,” Ditka said. “I never thought anything of it.” His assistant coach was the one who urged him to head to the hospital.

Myers’ experience was much the same. “I had just sent the team to the other end of the field and I got dizzy and leaned on the goalpost. I thought it was one of those head rush things,” he remembered.

He headed to the locker train and asked Lake Forest College trainer Mike Gilboe to call 911. “If it’s a false alarm, it’ll be a joke on both of us,” Gilboe said hopefully to Myers.

For both men, the alarm was anything but false. But thanks to the hospital’s emergency and cardiology experts, it wasn’t tragic. Myers went to the hospital at 5:00 p.m. and was treated and alert by 8:00 p.m. By then his wife, Carol, noted, “Wow, you look 100% better.”

The cause of their attacks was baffling because neither coach was out of shape and both exercised frequently at the time.

There are a lot of factors that increase your risk of heart attacks, including family history, said Ditka, adding “But I think stress had something to do with it. I used to get mad about a lot of things. Now I know there’s not much more important than friends and family.”

Throughout their ordeals, the coaches have found support from their wives, and as their perspectives have changed; so have their diets. Diana Ditka makes turkey, while Carol Myers—“not a fish person”—has begun grilling fish. (Ditka’s favorite dish at his restaurant is whitefish.)

Myers talked about the additional support he’s received from his players. He recalled how he used to jog with his players at practice. Now Myers walks a little more, and discourages those who lag behind just to keep him company. “Go ahead!” he has to tell them. “Don’t walk with me!”

Amidst the din of the restaurant, the coaches reflected upon their attacks. “It’s a warning,” Ditka said. “It forces you to slow down,” Myers added.

Compared to ordinary Americans, neither Ditka nor Myers have slow lifestyles but they’re calling their life plays a little differently these days. Thanks to Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital’s life-saving care Myers is back on the sidelines and Ditka continues his travel schedule for weekly ESPN broadcasts.

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