NEW YORK — John Fox hears that “How are you?” question a lot more than most people.
And those asking seem unusually skeptical when he responds that he’s fine.
Fox, after all, is a 58-year-old man who on Nov. 4 had surgery to replace his aortic heart valve. He also works a fairly high-stress job, leading the Denver Broncos into Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.
Yet two days before the game, Fox was almost comically calm about the events of his past three months.
“Really, it was like a sprained ankle,” he said. “It was going to be four weeks (of rehabilitation). There were some things I had to do. Obviously, there was a little healing process. … I was back to work on a Monday, four weeks post-op from open-heart surgery. I felt 150 percent better. I had a valve that was probably the opening the size of a pinhead; now, it’s a 50-cent piece. Just from a feeling good standpoint, I feel way, way, way better than I did two months ago.”
That brought this reaction from Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who was sharing the Rose Theater stage as the coaches took part in their final media event before the game: “What a stud. He’s comparing an open-heart surgery and being on his back to an ankle sprain. Congratulations on that; that’s really amazing.”
Fox knew going into this third season as Denver’s head coach that he had a congenital heart condition that would require attention. However, he was planning for that after the season – right until his heart made clear that it had other plans.
That happened Nov. 4, when Fox was playing golf in North Carolina, during a Broncos bye week. He began feeling light-headed, was taken to a hospital, and tests determined the operation should be done as soon as possible.
“Our first concern was for his health,” quarterback Peyton Manning said. “How serious was this? What was going to happen in the immediate future as far as potential surgery? So really, the last thing we were thinking about was, when was he going to be back as our coach? … We were all just concerned for his natural well-being, and we were relieved once we knew he was going to be OK.”
Fox missed four games due to surgery and recovery. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio served as interim head coach over that stretch, and the Broncos went 3-1, with the lone loss coming in overtime at New England.
“I didn’t tinker with anything on the offense or special teams,” Del Rio said. “Basically, we understood what we had to do. I pulled things together and led it, but the blueprint was in place. … I didn’t sit and try to channel John Fox in my head, I just trusted my gut.”
Fox returned for the final four regular season games, going 3-1. The loss came at home to San Diego, but that was avenged in Denver’s postseason opener. Next up was another play-back game, and a 26-16 win over New England for the AFC title.
That one put Denver through to what will be the team’s seventh Super Bowl, the second as a head coach for Fox, who took 2003 Carolina to Super Bowl XXXVIII. The Panthers lost to the Patriots, 32-29, that year.
Asked what he learned from that game, Fox replied, “That you don’t want to lose.”
Now, he gets at second chance – a few second chances, really. He’s back at a Super Bowl, coaching again, healthy again.
“Really, it's been a blessing,” Fox said. “I'm way better than I was physically the last 10 years of my life. So, it's really been kind of an upgrade, and I feel tremendous. … I never really gave it a second thought about coming back not being an option, or returning to coaching being an option. It’s worked out pretty well.”