He was getting hot, a bit sweaty and lightheaded. George Steinbrenner had not eaten breakfast, nor dinner the night before. The church in Sarasota, Fla., on Dec. 27, 2003, was packed with people saying their last goodbyes to Otto Graham, the greatest quarterback Steinbrenner had ever seen and a man who embodied the virtues he holds dearest: leadership, loyalty and a rugged football mentality that borders on militaristic. They had been friends with roots in Cleveland. Graham died from an aneurysm at 82, only nine years older than Steinbrenner. Otto was yet another one from their generation gone. Steinbrenner was finding himself at too many funerals these days. ¶ That preacher. You couldn't say enough good things about Otto, but...damn, the preacher was going on and on and on and...and then the world as Steinbrenner knew it began going dark and fuzzy and muffled, as if he were sinking underwater in a dream, until all of it—the preacher's droning voice, the heat of the church, the men dressed in dark suits and the faint, musty smell of death that hangs over every funeral—all of it went black. Steinbrenner never felt his head whack against a chair on his way to the ground.
"Now just relax. Don't try to get up."
It was a woman's voice. A gentle voice. It was a doctor's voice.
Steinbrenner opened his eyes and, still prone, spoke to the doctor.
"Lemme alone, for crissakes."
He was taken by ambulance to a Sarasota hospital. He was wheeled through corridors on a gurney with a sheet pulled over his head, as if he were dead. This was done to protect him from the news media, hot on the scent of a huge story: The owner of the New York Yankees had collapsed.
"That's Steinbrenner!" he heard from under the sheet, though no one could say for sure.
Several doctors, including a neurologist, examined him. After a day of observation the lead doctor told him they had found nothing wrong. He had fainted, that was all. "Well," Steinbrenner said to him, "a lot of people won't be happy with that, but it's good news for me."
A while later he got dressed and went home. He went home feeling fine. He went home feeling different, too.
"It makes you think," he says three months later. "You're that close." He's talking about death, a too-familiar subject for him recently. "It was a tough period, because you wonder whether you're all right...[But] I don't think it scared anybody in New York. Why were they scared? If I had gone, so I'd be gone. They wouldn't have cared much, I don't think."