Montana wasn't always cool under pressure

Ex-NFL star spreads word on silent danger to health

August 03, 2005|By Bill Ordine | Bill Ordine,SUN STAFF

Along with his four Super Bowl victories, Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana is probably best remembered as an imperturbable, clutch performer with proverbial ice water in his veins.

A few years ago, though, the unflappable Montana discovered that what coursed through his veins - blood at a dangerously high pressure - was a greater threat than any NFL defense ever posed.

"I was the typical American in that I liked all the things that are bad for you, and not only did I like them but I liked them doubled," Montana said yesterday during a stop in Baltimore to publicize blood pressure awareness and treatment.

To get his blood pressure under control, Montana, now 49, said he changed his eating habits a bit, but just as importantly, he began taking the proper medication.

"When they gave me my first medication ... it didn't lower my blood pressure at all," Montana said. Now, he takes a combination of two medicines that have him in what the former quarterback calls the "BP Success Zone," which is the name of the program Montana is a spokesman for. The program is sponsored by Novartis, a pharmaceutical company.

Montana and cardiologist James M. Rippe visit a couple of cities a month - today it's Pittsburgh and, later in the summer, St. Louis and Kansas City - to remind people of the prevalence of high blood pressure and how easy it can be to control.

"Uncontrolled high blood pressure is a very significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke," Rippe said.

"This is something that we have great treatments for," the doctor added, "but what people are not doing is that they're not talking to their docs, they're not getting their blood pressure measured and, as a result, we have close to 70 million people [in America] with high blood pressure."

The insidious characteristic of high blood pressure, both the doctor and the football star said, is that it can be asymptomatic, as it was in Montana's case. Even though he controlled his weight and exercised, the danger lurked.

He discovered his condition only after a routine physical examination that his wife, Jennifer, insisted he get in 2002.

Montana, who grew up in Monongahela, Pa., and led Notre Dame to a national championship before writing his legacy as the leader of the 49ers' dynasty, now lives quiety in Calistoga in California wine country.

His two daughters are attending his alma mater and participate in horse jumping. Montana's two sons, 15 and 13, are easing their way into competitive sports; both play quarterback.

Montana said he has tried not to push his sons and understands the burden that can come with being the offspring of a sports legend.

"It's tough a little bit on them," he said. "It's tougher on the older one because he's starting to realize, but the younger one ... he knows I played but he's more full steam ahead."

A three-time Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, Montana spent 15 seasons in the NFL, the first 13 with San Francisco and the final two with Kansas City, and the years of pounding have taken their toll. This year, he has had operations on his neck, which has him moving stiffly, and on his knee.

Montana has a real estate business in the Bay Area and has an interest in a financial venture along with former 49ers teammates Harris Barton and Ronnie Lott. And, along with spending time with his family, he has become dedicated to spreading the word about the dangers of high blood pressure.

"Unlike a lot of diseases that take a long time to cure, this is a way we can affect people's lives simply by making them aware that they need to know their blood pressure and that they need to get with their doctor and get on this program," Montana said. "It's an easy fix. You just need to know it's there."

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