Panthers owner Richardson on heart transplant list

Updated: December 10, 2008, 8:11 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson has been placed on a list for a heart transplant, the team announced Wednesday afternoon.

Richardson, 72, has been hospitalized at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte since Saturday. The team said Richardson will undergo a transplant as soon as possible if a donor is found. According to the American Heart Association, there are more than 2,000 heart transplants performed in the United States each year, with a five-year survival rate of 72 percent for males.

Richardson had a pacemaker/defibrillator inserted in early November, but returned to the hospital after feeling ill and was unable to attend Monday night's victory over Tampa Bay. Richardson has a history of heart trouble and underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 2002.

Richardson is the only NFL owner to have played in the league. He spent two seasons playing receiver for the Baltimore Colts. Since bringing the expansion Panthers to the Carolinas in 1995, he has been one of the league's most influential owners and serves on several league committees.

His absence on game days and during the week while he's been hospitalized has brought a noticeable void. The seriousness of his illness brought a somber atmosphere to Bank of America Stadium, two days after the Panthers' 38-23 win over Tampa Bay left them 10-3 and atop the NFC South.

Richardson and his two sons worked for years to get an NFL expansion team, a prospect at one time thought impossible for Charlotte. The former Baltimore Colts receiver, who caught the winning touchdown pass from Johnny Unitas in the 1959 NFL championship game, was awarded the expansion Panthers in 1993.

The team began play two years later and Richardson has become an influential owner in the league, serving on powerful committees and being on the negotiating team with the players union on the league's collective bargaining agreement.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell visited Richardson in the hospital on Monday before attending Carolina's game against the Buccaneers. He said then that Richardson remained confident he would continue to play a strong role in league activities.

"I think what they have done here is create a franchise that is not only admired in its own community, but admired league-wide," Goodell said Monday. "It's what we want our franchises to be, a great part of the community, and that is large part due to Jerry Richardson."

Richardson's sons, Mark and Jon, play major roles in running the team and Bank of America Stadium, which is also owned by Richardson.

Richardson's stamp on the franchise is visible everywhere. The team holds training camp at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., his alma mater, and the team's stadium has strict rules for fan conduct.

Richardson, nicknamed "Big Cat," is known for taking newly drafted players on a golf-cart ride of the grounds at Bank of America Stadium, giving a stern pep talk about the proper behavior he expects from his players.

ESPN.com NFL reporter Pat Yaskinskas and The Associated Press contributed to this report.