FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — The disappointment and annoyance Steve Weatherford felt while watching his teammates in a playoff game was bad enough. Then came the fear his career might be over.
The New York Jets’ punter missed last weekend’s victory at Cincinnati because of a rapid heartbeat. He passed a stress test Monday and should be fine for Sunday’s playoff game at San Diego — although he says he will require a surgical procedure after the season. Weatherford also had surgery when he was 16 for the problem.
“You can’t be sure what the doctors will tell you,” Weatherford said after practicing Tuesday. “The doctors knew I had this condition and they thought it was fixed. So did I.
“Once something like that happens, you don’t know if the doctors will say you are fit to ever play again.”
Fortunately, Weatherford checked out fine once his heart rate diminished. But that didn’t occur until near halftime, when he finally was able to call his wife, Laura, and tell her what was wrong.
He has been “in and out of the hospital for three days,” the 27-year-old Weatherford said. He’ll be back in during the offseason for a more extensive procedure to repair a problem related to “the electrical setup of the heart,” one that has nothing to do with physical exertion.
Although he had a similar experience when he was a teenager, the problem Saturday surprised Weatherford. He was warming up, punted a few balls and suddenly felt his heart beat racing. He knew immediately what it was and told the team doctors, then headed to the locker room for an EKG. Weatherford also was given beta blockers to slow his heart.
There he stayed while place-kicker Jay Feely added the punting duties and performed very well.
“I owe him a steak dinner for that,” Weatherford said with a laugh.
“I tried to relax and get the heart rate down,” he added. “I felt really sorry. I feel blessed to be healthy now. I felt like I was letting everybody down and I was the most miserable …”
Feely averaged 31.4 yards on seven punts, putting three inside the Cincinnati 20 as the Jets won the field position battle. The nine-year veteran also made a field goal and three extra points.
It was quite a noteworthy performance considering Feely never had punted in a pro game and had no preparation beforehand to take over those duties.
And for anyone who thinks kicking is kicking, well, Feely and Weatherford will provide a long discourse on the differences between punting and placekicking.
“It’s a totally different form, different technique, different kind of kicking altogether,” Feely said. “I didn’t want to make a mistake, just wanted to catch the ball and kick it, not get one blocked, not make a mistake that was game-changing.”
Just as difficult as all the on-field kicking was the warming up on the sideline.
“I was always getting ready, whether to punt or try a field goal,” Feely said. “It’s a matter of doing your job — you’re just doing something new. You have to stay in the moment.”
Weatherford had wanted to stay on the Paul Brown Stadium field, and even came out of the locker room once before doctors persuaded him to leave the punting to Feely. The fact that Feely has been around the NFL for nearly a decade helped him handle double-duty, and made Weatherford a bit more comfortable as a spectator.
But not totally.
“He knows what a punt is supposed to look like,” Weatherford said of Feely. “But doing it is another thing. I could tell you what a jump shot is supposed to look like, but not sure I could do it.”
Feely will encourage Weatherford to change part of his pregame routine, suggesting he listen to Kenny G instead of Metallica.
“Yeah, something mellow,” Feely said. “No more heavy metal.”