SEPTEMBER 20, 1971
John Brodie played in two NFC Championship Games, was the NFL's MVP in 1970 and won a tournament on the Senior PGA circuit 21 years later, yet his latest athletic endeavor—swinging a golf club again after suffering a massive stroke—has proved to be the most difficult.
On Oct. 23, 2000, while at son Bill's house in Newport Beach, Calif., watching the New York Jets play the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football, Brodie felt his right hand going numb. By the time he drove to his own house, in La Quinta, the numbness had subsided, so he watched the end of what turned out to be the longest Monday-night game ever. But when he awoke the next morning, he couldn't get out of bed or even talk. He was rushed to Eisenhower Medical Center, in Rancho Mirage, where doctors discovered mat Brodie's carotid arteries were almost completely blocked and the speech center of his brain had been severely damaged. Brodie underwent emergency surgery that saved his life, but there was great uncertainty about his recovery. "The doctors didn't offer a lot of hope, but they didn't really know," says Brodie's wife of 46 years, Sue. "It really takes a lot of determination, a strong will and the desire to survive and get better."
The competitiveness that marked Brodie's 17-year career as a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers and his 13 years as a Senior tour player emerged soon after he was out of danger. Partially paralyzed on his right side and able to utter only a few words, he spent a year in a standard physical and speech therapy program for stroke patients. But after making limited progress, Brodie turned to Rebound Sports and Physical Therapy, a private clinic in Abilene, Texas, that was experimenting with non-conventional rehabilitation techniques.
On an average of about six times a year Brodie, 68, has traveled to Texas for four- or six-week treatment sessions that include intensive speech and exercise therapy as well as electrical stimulation of his right arm and leg. Brodie's vocabulary is up to more than 1,000 words. (In an attempt to re-create speech patterns, the therapist has played tapes from Brodie's 11 years as an NFL commentator for NBC.) His right leg is almost as functional as it was before his stroke, he can lift his right arm parallel to the floor, and he now travels to Texas by himself. (His physicians and physical therapist have applied for a patent on their aggressive techniques.)
"He's always looking for something to strive for and is very positive," says Bill. "That's why he had success in football, too."
The Brodies also have four daughters—Kelly, Cammie, Diane and Erin—as well as 10 grandchildren. "He's more family-oriented and plays more with the grandkids," Bill says of his father's poststroke lifestyle. John hopes that one day he will be able to show them all a new golf swing.