Surgeons Sawed through his sternum and stopped his heart. Once his ticker was still, they repaired it with veins harvested from his right leg and the front of his chest. That done, they removed the clamp from his aorta and waited for the heart to start beating again. The operation lasted three hours.
As Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Reeves regained consciousness on Dec. 14, he knew that he had survived a quadruple-bypass operation. That was the good news. The bad news was that the tube inserted in his windpipe didn't seem to be carrying any oxygen to his lungs. Having come who-knows-how-close to suffering a massive heart attack and then making it through open-heart surgery, it was apparently Reeves's fate to suffocate in his hospital bed.
The crisis passed as Reeves's nurse assured him that even though he felt as if he wasn't getting enough air, the tube was, in fact, doing its job. Later that evening, having cast off the despised endotracheal device, Reeves was walking around his room when his son, Lee, came calling.
"What time is it?" asked Dan.
"Eight-thirty," said Lee.
"A.M. or P.M.?"
"Hey," said Dan, with his Georgia twang, "Monday Night Football's on, idn't it?"
"I had a pretty good idea right then that he was going to be all right," says Lee, a 31-year-old Atlanta lawyer. He's the second of three children of Dan and Pam Reeves, who began dating as students at Americus (Ga.) High and have been married 33 years. "High school sweethearts—it is awfully ooey-gooey," says Pam, "but sometimes, those marriages work."
Were this a movie script—native son returns to his home state, where, two years later, undaunted by a brush with death, he leads the local team to its first Super Bowl, where, in the Denver Broncos, it will face a team that fired him—it would rightfully be dismissed as, well, too ooey-gooey.