TORONTO (Oct. 14) — It was back on June 15, a lifetime ago for Bob McCown, that our country’s most–celebrated sports radio and TV host suffered an ischemic stroke while recording his daily podcast. Four months later, the Bobcat is discouraged over his lack of progress and rehabilitation, telling me on the phone today that “I don’t have a life anymore.” An incident on Thursday afternoon hit hardest for the 71–year–old native of Columbus, Ohio.
“I fell down in front of my house and couldn’t get up,” McCown explained, his talking slurred, but clearly understandable. “It was horrible. There I was, lying on the pavement at the foot of my driveway. A couple of ladies went by in their car. They got out to help me. Turns out I tore open the skin near my knee and sustained a gash on my forehead, which I didn’t notice until was shaving the other day. I’m not a human being anymore. I have trouble walking [he uses a cane]; I can’t drive; I can’t go to the grocery store to buy food. I am still unable to accomplish many of the things we all do without thinking. And, it’s so damned frustrating. It hurts to say that I’ve seen no real improvement in the time since I had the stroke. I’m just doing the best I can… with lots of help from my kids.”
To those unaware, McCown’s plight hits home for yours truly. Though we occasionally clashed and have never been best friends, we also spent two years — from 1989 to 1991 — executing a magazine radio program that led directly to the first all–sports entity in Canada. Bob hosted Prime Time Sports with Bill Watters as his sidekick. I was the show’s first producer, lining up four segments of programming for our 6:10 to 7 p.m. time–slot. McCown was so prolific that the local show morphed into a national radio production; then, ultimately, to a three–hour colossus (4–7 p.m.) simulcast across the country on Sportsnet TV. When McCown, in late–June 2019, announced that the following night’s show would be his last, it came as quite a shock to viewers and listeners. Capitalizing on his fame, he and former FAN–590 colleague John Shannon hatched the Bob McCown Podcast, which instantly went viral. It was during the June 15 edition, with long–time National Hockey League coach Bruce Boudreau as a phone guest, that Bob’s speech began to slur and a noticeable droop appeared on the left side of his face.
“When it was happening, I didn’t realize that anything was wrong,” McCown recalls. “I’d suffered two minor strokes several years earlier, which I suppose were warning signs. Shannon insisted I get medical attention and I wasn’t sure why. I had a second small stroke after entering the hospital, then a really bad one five nights later. It happened while I was asleep. That’s the incident I’m having so much difficulty recovering from. After waking up, I could neither talk nor walk. There has been some improvement, physically and emotionally, since then, but not nearly as much as I was hoping for. I’m able to help out on the podcast with my slurred speech, but it’s not the same. Our sponsors have been kind enough to stick with us, though I’m not sure that will carry on much longer.”
Part of the reason surrounds McCown’s memory loss. He claims that it’s a short and long–term deficit.
“I don’t remember names,” he said. “Before going on the podcast, I have to write down which Blue Jays or Leafs players we’re going to discuss. Otherwise, I’d be in trouble. Do I remember our early years together doing Prime Time? Vaguely, but not the way I used to. Honestly, this thing is terrible. There’s not a minute of time when I’m unaware of what I can no longer do. Simple stuff, like getting up from a chair. Or, sitting down. It takes an incredible amount of effort and concentration. I get frustrated beyond belief. My legs haven’t been the same since the stroke. Spending five weeks in hospital atrophied my leg muscles and they haven’t fully recovered. Not even close.”
Neither is Bob particularly impressed with the medical help he’s received.
“Once you leave the hospital, they forget about you,” he lamented. “I’m on a waiting list for leg rehab. It’s been three bloody months. How long to they expect me to continue like this? It has also impacted my appetite. My weight has dropped from around 195 to 180 pounds. I feel depressed. My legs are still so weak. When you don’t notice any big improvement over such a length of time, it gets you down. It’s demoralizing. But, what can I do?”
One thing Bob can still do, with authority, is talk sports. And, say things over which more than a few people might bristle. For example, I asked McCown for his appraisal of the Maple Leafs in the first week of the NHL season. “I’ll be surprised if they don’t finish near the .500 mark,” he replied. “It is still a team that can score goals, but has no defense or goaltending. Witness the Montreal game the other night. How can a team challenge for the Stanley Cup when it is so comparatively weak, every year, behind center ice? I disagree 100% that the club will continue to flourish in the regular season. Ultimately, the Maple Leafs will have trouble making the playoffs. Just watch.”
About the Blue Jays, who were bounced from the American League wild card round in two consecutive games by Minnesota, McCown thinks all the talk about removing starter José Berrios was overblown. “It made no difference at all,” he said. “That team couldn’t hit with runners on base to save its collective life. Did it matter who was pitching when the club couldn’t overcome a measly, two–run deficit? To me, it was a non issue.”
For McCown, each day has become a forlorn challenge. “I’m not the person I used to be,” he admitted. “I figured by now I’d see some real improvement. But, it just isn’t there. Little things take so much effort.
“Thankfully, I have my children. They always help me. But, I feel so damned diminished.”