Not even a heart attack can stop Sheridan
Michael Marley spied an unfamiliar face seated in a restricted area near ringside at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas and his heart jumped into his throat. The rematch between heavyweights Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson was only hours away and the show was going to be broadcast to a vast worldwide audience.
Marley, then the director of public relations for Don King Productions, saw the man seated behind play-by-play announcer Bob Sheridan, who was going to deliver the call to the vast majority of those who watched the bout.
He wasn’t sure what the man was up to, but he didn’t think it could be good. With the big fight rapidly approaching, Marley approached the man and decided to yank him from ringside.
“I thought he was a press section freeloader,” Marley said.
It turns out the man was no freeloader and, if the truth be told, he didn’t even want to be at the fight.
He was Las Vegas cardiologist Ram Singh, and Sheridan had brought him to the show.
It wasn’t a case of Sheridan treating his friend to a night at the fights on his boss, however. Sheridan, you see, had had a heart attack less than 24 hours prior while walking out of the MGM Grand sports book.
“I get heart attacks like some people get the flu,” said Sheridan, a bon vivant and raconteur who has broadcast more than 10,000 bouts, including 869 world championship fights, in more than 40 years in the business.
Sheridan walked himself to the valet area at the MGM and hailed a cab. He asked the driver to take him to the nearest hospital because he felt he was having a heart attack.
“I’d had heart attacks before,” Sheridan said. “I knew what was going on.”
The cab driver took off like he was in a NASCAR race for the short trip to Desert Springs Hospital. En route, predictably, a Las Vegas police officer pulled alongside the speeding taxi. The driver indicated that the passenger was having a heart attack and was allowed to proceed to the emergency room.
There, Sheridan was thrown onto a stretcher, where he began to ask the nurses to take him off his medication at 2 a.m. so that he’d be able to call the fight the next night. It was the biggest fight in years and Sheridan wasn’t about to miss it because of a heart attack.
Back at the MGM, Marty Corwin, who was directing the show for King, was in a panic. He’d run into George Calvert, a boxing promoter from New Zealand, who told him that Sheridan was having chest pains.
Corwin, one of Sheridan’s closest friends, instantly began calling Las Vegas-area hospitals. He knew of Sheridan’s history of heart troubles and was concerned that his friend’s life may be in jeopardy.
He knew – just knew – that there would be no way Sheridan would be able to call the fight the next night. And knowing Sheridan like he did, Corwin figured that Sheridan would be stressed out about it.
So in order to help his buddy to recover in peace, Corwin hastily arranged for Bruce Beck to handle Sheridan’s play-by-play duties. That way, Corwin said, the most professional announcer he’d ever met wouldn’t worry about leaving anyone in the lurch.
But by the time Corwin located Sheridan and rushed to the hospital, Sheridan had undergone the first of what would be several angioplasties. When he walked into the room, Corwin was relieved to see Sheridan still alive.
He relayed the good news that Beck agreed to do the show. In a weak voice, Sheridan asked Corwin to come to him.
“He was laying there with tubes in and out of every orifice in his body, I think,” Corwin said. “He’d just had one angioplasty and was scheduled for two more. He looked bad. I told him about Bruce and said he wouldn’t have to worry. But he didn’t laugh or seem happy.
“He asked me to come closer, and I bent down. He grabbed me by the shirt collars and said, ‘Marty, if you don’t let me do the fight, I’m going to kill you.’ ”
Corwin knew that was impossible, and Dr. Singh quickly corroborated. Sheridan, though, had other ideas.
He checked himself out of the hospital against Singh’s wishes, after signing a document stating he was leaving against medical advice.
They rented a defibrillator. They hired an ambulance team. And they got Singh a credential and had him sit behind Sheridan as he called the biggest fight of the decade.
“I was doing my (sports talk) radio show there, and I was talking about it and saying how he’d had a heart attack the night before, and there he was, sitting there doing the play-by-play the next night,” said Eddie Andelman, the legendary long-time host on WEEI in Boston and one of Sheridan’s best friends. “I literally had physicians calling me and telling me it was impossible.”
It wasn’t impossible, though, and Sheridan was there to do the fight. The bout ended in the third round when Tyson bit Holyfield on the ear, sparking a riot in the arena that spilled out into the hotel.
There was chaos. Sheridan’s bodyguard, Pancho Limon, a 7-foot Mexican man, grabbed Sheridan and, with elbows out, dragged him through the crowd toward the ambulance crew they’d hired earlier.
But there were two crews there: the one that Sheridan had hired and another that was on hand to fulfill state fight regulations.
“The paramedics started arguing about which one of them would get to take ‘The Colonel,’ to the hospital,” Corwin said.
It was just one story in a wild and adventurous life that should one day land Sheridan in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Nobody has called more fights. Nobody has worked more championship fights. Nobody has called fights in more countries than Sheridan, who has worked in America, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, Russia, China, Burma, Zaire, Venezuela, Uganda, South Africa, Kuala Lumpur and so many more that Sheridan loses count.
But nobody has made more friends or entertained more people than Sheridan in more than four decades in the sport.
“Bob is a Boston Irishman who has no enemies, only friends he hasn’t met yet,” Marley said.
He’s a large man with a ruddy complexion and a thick New England accent. Many who know him now are shocked to find that he once was a professional bull rider. He had grown up on a farm in New Hampshire and loved horses and cattle from an early age.
Sheridan rode bulls on a minor-league professional circuit and, like most cowboys, broke most of the bones in his body. He managed to survive the angry 2,000-pound bulls, though, even though he now says at 64 he’s paying a heavy price for his rodeo days.
“A lot of people ask me what’s the difference between riding a mechanical bull and a real bull,” Sheridan said. “It’s easy. When you get thrown from the mechanical bull, the party is over. When you get thrown from a real bull, the trouble is just beginning.”
His bull-riding days nearly got him into serious trouble. He lived for a few years in Shannon, Ireland, where he had a farm and raised cattle. He got off a plane one day wearing a cowboy hat and an oversized belt buckle.
When he walked down the steps of the plane, jaws dropped. The buckle had three large letters – “IRA” – at a time when there was a lot of political strife in Northern Ireland with the Irish Republican Army.
The buckle, though, was given to him by the International Rodeo Association, for whom he rode.
“There were people who didn’t know me who looked at that, and the looks on their faces were amazing,” Sheridan said. “But it was no big deal. All of the police and everyone knew me, and they knew what it was.”
Sheridan got into announcing after an undistinguished baseball career at the University of Miami, Fla., where he played for legendary coach Ron Fraser. In the last game of his career, Fraser was irritated to see Sheridan’s name at the top of the batting statistics.
Sheridan was 2-for-4, so his .500 average led the team. Fraser didn’t want a part-time player to lead his team in hitting, so in the last game, he sent Sheridan up to bat. He figured Sheridan would make an out and his average would drop.
But Sheridan was hit by a pitch, leaning into an inside fastball, and he kept that team-leading average.
He played minor-league ball for the Miami Marlins of the Florida State League, but was released after a month.
“It was unfair,” he said, jokingly. “The only reason they gave me ‘why’ was my complete lack of ability to play professional baseball.”
The team’s public relations director suggested he get into radio, and he wound up working alongside revered baseball announcer Red Barber on a sports talk show. One thing led to another and he became the radio play-by-play man for the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who went undefeated and won the Super Bowl.
But his long-time love was boxing. Several years earlier, he’d met Chris and Angelo Dundee, who promoted many boxing shows in Miami Beach, Fla., and they hired him to do radio broadcasts.
He was, almost from the beginning, a consummate professional.
“I’ve never met an easier guy to work with and a guy completely without ego,” Corwin said.
“I’ve been in radio for more than 40 years, and I know all of the broadcasters. And other than Al Michaels, I’ve never seen anyone more prepared for a broadcast than ‘The Colonel,’ ” Andelman said.
Sheridan, who was given the title of colonel when he joined the Ancient & Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, has brought fights to millions of fans around the world.
He’s occasionally criticized for trying to make a dull fight sound interesting, a criticism that wounds him.
“I’m not a boxing journalist, I’m a boxing entertainer,” Sheridan said. “And if that’s the worst thing they can say about me, I guess I don’t have a lot to complain about.”
He’s not in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, though the exclusion is a farce.
Though he’s not particularly well known in the U.S., most of his broadcasts reach an international audience, and he’s a celebrity throughout the world. He’s mobbed in New Zealand and Australia and revered in many other countries. King, who called him the heart and soul of his company, said he planned to make it a personal crusade to get Sheridan into the Hall.
“He was the trailblazer, long before there was an HBO, long before there was a Showtime,” King said. “He was delivering the word to people all over the globe. He was cutting the weeds and the trees and laying down the tracks to make boxing what it became.
“He loves the sport and he showed that in every fight he did. He did the (preliminary) fights with the same love that he gave the biggest super fights of all time. If he’s not into the Hall of Fame, then the Hall of Fame don’t have the best people in it.”