Sunday, October 13, 2002

Huggins' red-hot attitude staying


Don't expect him to calm down now

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Bob Huggins will John Wayne his way through this heart stuff. The drastic lifestyle changes, the personality makeovers? They're for other heart patients. Huggins will not declare himself a vegetarian or miss practice for yoga classes. Huggins' heart was injured. What's inside his heart hasn't changed. He'll play hurt.

He had a press conference Saturday morning, 14 days after the heart attack that almost killed him. His friend, Chuck Machock, asked the best question:

"Have you given serious thought to dividing your humidor?"

"No," Huggins said. He will still smoke lots of cigars.

The doctors will tell Bob Huggins some things. Sleep more. Eat better. (Hint: Barley isn't a vegetable.) Exercise. You are no longer 19. Allowances must be made.

Here's what they won't tell him, because they know better:

Change who you are.

"They know I'm not going to do that," Huggins said. "Their goal is to get me back as close to normal as I can be."

Huggins won't give up being Huggins, and no one is going to make him. When he gets mad, Huggins won't appoint a designated yeller. His cardiologist won't put him on a strict rant quota. "I'm not going to do anything they tell me absolutely don't do," Huggins said. "But they haven't told me absolutely don't do anything."

He might sleep a little more and ignore his body a little less. When's worn out, he might slide himself into neutral. He's smart enough to know he was lucky and that his body might not give him another chance. Bob might be Huggins Lite. But only occasionally. A man's got to live his life. So don't mess with the humidor.

Huggins looked a lot better Saturday than the last time most of us saw him, after UC's double-overtime loss to UCLA in March. That Huggins was the overweight owner of a crimson, bloated face that screamed trouble. On Saturday, Huggins was slim enough to joke about the mock turtleneck shirts he wore during games. "People thought I wanted to make a fashion statement," he said. "I was just so damned fat I was trying to hide it."

Huggins isn't overly burdened by introspection. He'd rather act than ponder. "During those nine or 10 days" in the hospital, "what did you think about?" someone asked.

"Getting back to work," Huggins said. You could make a good case that not coaching would be worse for Huggins' health than coaching the way he always has. "I'm going to do what I've always done, I'm just not going to be in the office as much," he said.

Doctors don't know yet the full extent of the damage to his heart. He's doing some light exercise, which is more than he did before, when he'd get his workouts charging through airports. "I may have to make some changes. I'm getting close to 50; I'd probably have to do that anyway," he said.

It will be an interesting battle, Huggins vs. himself. You wonder if his ultra competitive nature will see his fragile heart as a challenge to his well-being or another opponent to steamroll. Huggins is a tough guy: tough on his players, his coaches, the media. Tough on himself. How much he lowers that gear is up to him. Doctors, family and friends can make suggestions. But they won't tell him what to do. Nobody has, not for a long time.

"When you think of Nov. 23, the first game," someone asked, "do you see yourself doing everything you've always done?"

"Sure," Huggins said. "I don't know why I wouldn't."

E-mail pdaugherty@enquirer.com



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