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Health scare puts Super Bowl in perspective for Fox

Denver Broncos coach John Fox attends a news conference ahead of Super Bowl XLVIII in New York January 31, 2014. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Denver Broncos coach John Fox attends a news conference ahead of Super Bowl XLVIII in New York January 31, 2014. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Julian Linden

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Denver Broncos head coach John Fox is making his third trip to the Super Bowl this weekend.

If his past experiences count for anything, Fox would appear to have an edge over his Seattle Seahawks counterpart Pete Carroll, who is going to the big game for the first time.

But Fox does not buy into that notion, noting that his two previous trips to the National Football League's title game both resulted in losses.

Asked directly what he learnt from his past Super Bowls, Fox's reply was blunt: "That you don't want to lose."

Winning means everything in the cut-throat, results-driven world of the NFL but a mid-season health scare has given Fox a new sense of perspective about Sunday's match-up at MetLife Stadium.

Three months ago, Fox was enjoying a rare day off during his team's bye week, playing a round of golf with friends in North Carolina, when he suddenly collapsed on the course.

The 58-year-old was rushed to hospital and told by doctors that he urgently needed surgery on his heart and would have to take a break from coaching.

"Like any health scare, whether it was your parents or somebody in your family, in this case it was myself, it was a setback," he said.

"It was a little bit scary for a minute. I really don't think about it much now. The first four days, I thought about it a little bit because it was like getting hit by a truck."

BAD NEWS

For a man with ambitions to win the Super Bowl, taking a break in the middle of the season was not the news he wanted to hear, even though he had known for years that he had a heart defect that needed fixing.

Because it was never considered life-threatening, Fox had kept putting it off but not this time. He went straight under the surgeon's knife and spent four weeks recovering before he could return to the Broncos.

"I got better every day just like any player who has been through an injury," Fox said. "I never thought I wouldn't be back once I was going through the process."

Fox knows how badly things could have gone but said he now feels better than ever. He got a new aortic valve and made a full recovery and his Broncos did not miss a beat either as Jack Del Rio filled in as interim coach.

"The team was very concerned," Denver quarterback Peyton Manning said. "Coach Fox has a great relationship with all of his players, including me.

"So, we were all just concerned for his natural well-being, and we were relieved once we knew he was going to be OK."

Now Fox's attention is back on the Super Bowl, a game he has been trying to win ever since he entered the NFL in 1989 as defensive backs coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

He also worked in secondary coaching roles for the San Diego Chargers, St. Louis Rams and New York Giants, who made it to the Super Bowl in January 2001 but lost badly to the Baltimore Ravens.

HEARTBREAKING LOSS

In 2002, Fox was given his first head coaching job, in charge of the Carolina Panthers. In just his second season, he guided the Panthers to the Super Bowl, his second, where they suffered a heart wrenching 32-29 loss to the New England Patriots on a last-second field goal.

Fox spent nine seasons in Carolina, making the playoffs three times but never another Super Bowl, before he was told his contract would not be renewed after the 2010 season.

Two weeks later, Fox signed a four year deal with the Broncos and now has a new lease on life. Despite his background as a defensive-minded coach, Fox has assembled a Broncos team with one of the best offensive records in NFL history.

In each of his two years in charge, the Broncos have finished the regular season with the best record in the AFC and now he is back in the Super Bowl with arguably his best chance yet of getting his hands on the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

"Life is kind of trial and error. I've always been of the belief that if you stop learning you stop living," Fox said.

"All of it's an experience. It's been a fun season and a great group of guys to be around."

(Editing by Gene Cherry)

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