A former quarterback and head coach, 63-year-old Sam Wyche used his voice to bark orders on the gridiron over three decades.
But he hadn't uttered more than a whisper since his vocal chord was severed eight years ago and he's been out of the NFL ever since, until now. Last night, Wyche announced his return to the Cincinnati Bengals to a crowd of thousands gathered at Paul Brown Stadium. And he did it in a melodic baritone heard by all, without a PA system.
There will be no stymied football talks for Sam Wyche. The 28-hour “first of its kind” operation that ended Saturday morning at the Mayo Clinic changed all of that.
A few hours after surgery, Wyche's new voice emitted a deep grumbling moan with slight feedback from the plastic conical depression where his breastplate used to be. It was echoed with sighs of relief from the surgical team and bioengineers whom had worked for nearly a decade to achieve it.
In a first, short press conference Monday with reporters in his hospital room, Wyche sat up in a torso brace while his new resonance chamber was settling into position.
At the prompting of Dr. John Schaller, the head of his surgical team, Wyche performed the major note scale of Do-Re-Mi while Schaller adjusted the output with a laptop connected to Wyche's implant. The tuning of Wyche's voice and his vocal exercises will be important, Schaller said later in an interview with Reuters.
“I guarantee you Coach Wyche is going to give it his all—he's a competitor—but it's ultimately up to his biological processes to determine the results. Sam's been saying that we've just made it to overtime and now we need to win the coin flip. He's right, we just can't call it a success yet,” the chief of surgery said.
Wyche's chest is being monitored closely for signs of clotting and liquid gathering in his partially excised lungs, but everything has been good so far, Schaller said.
"We're almost complete with this phase...Anything can happen. We don't want to overlook this obstacle, but it's a real struggle to not notice 'Phase Two' coming up on our calendar," he said.
Schaller, an Oakley (Cincinnati) native, said he chose Wyche from a list of thousands of candidates for two reasons: his robust health gave a good chance of accepting the implant, and he provides the best chance of raising the Cincinnati “Bungles” from the doldrums of professional sports.
Dr. Schaller told CNN that there was a 60 percent to 80 chance that Wyche would be named the new head coach and general manager if the Bengals miss the playoffs, in an attempt to bring some levity to Tuesday's press conference.
Former Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was fired shortly after that interview.
In Cincinnati Wednesday, a parade down Elm Street was held in Wyche's honor. It culminated at Paul Brown Stadium with a press conference where Wyche was introduced as the Bengals' new head coach and general manager.
Wyche will have to take medication indefinitely to help his body adapt to his newly amplified voice, but, after this afternoon's practice, he's happy with the sacrifice. “Being able to communicate with players and staff two fields away and then pump 'Dog Pound' crowd noise in Shane Graham's face is a wonderful ability,” Wyche bellowed. “The most effective use so far has been blaring local sports talk radio during Oklahoma drills. I've never seen anything like it.”
It's been reported that a similar operation was offered by the Cleveland Clinic. When asked about the offer Wyche responded with a booming, “No comment.”
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