Counting His Blessings
Patriots assistant Charlie Weis is glad to be alive after
complications from stomach-reduction surgery

All seemed so right in the world of Patriots offensive
coordinator Charlie Weis late on Sunday afternoon as he relaxed
in a meeting room underneath Gillette Stadium. He had
chess-played all his modest weapons--employing three runners and
five receivers on the first touchdown drive alone--in a 24--17
win over the Vikings. With five games left, the 6--5 Patriots
were still scratching and clawing to reach a second straight
Super Bowl. And this was the new Weis, about 85 pounds lighter
than a year ago, when he weighed an estimated 330. "I haven't
weighed 244 since 1991," Weis said.

Of course, looks can be deceiving. Weis is no sporting version of
Al Roker, the jolly NBC weatherman who successfully underwent
stomach staple surgery last March. Weis is grateful to be alive
more than five months after undergoing the same procedure, which
is also known as gastric bypass surgery. The operation went so
horribly wrong--Weis began bleeding internally--that he nearly

The 10 days after the surgery are a blur for Weis, who lapsed in
and out of consciousness. He lifts up his pants legs to reveal a
pair of sturdy plastic braces that extend from just below his
knees into his shoes. He has numbness in his right leg from the
knee down. He's finally getting some feeling back in his lower
left leg. But if he didn't wear the braces, he'd have a bad case
of drop foot in both legs. At times Weis's anger is palpable. "Al
Roker can take that happy story of his," he says, "and shove it
up his ass."

Weis has been overweight for most of his 46 years. "My one
failure in life," he says. "The one thing I couldn't control." He
tried Weight Watchers, Slim-Fast, the Atkins diet, the Cabbage
Soup Diet, the Heart Diet, the 1,000-calorie-a-day diet. None of
them worked. He says the combination of health concerns (his
father had two heart attacks and died at 56) and his belief that
NFL owners wouldn't hire a fat man as a head coach led him to
have what he thought was a fairly routine surgery on June 14, a
Friday. He believes he bled internally until that Sunday night,
when doctors went back in and repaired the damage.

"Whatever was leaking led to an infection throughout my body,"
Weis says. As his condition worsened, his wife, Maura, had a
priest administer last rites. Charlie's best friend, former Notre
Dame classmate Jim Benenati, flew in to Boston four days after
the surgery and was shocked by what he saw. "I called all our
buddies from Notre Dame," recalls Benenati, a Miami doctor, "and
told them, 'I don't think Charlie's going to make it.'"

The Weises have no family in the area, but in the early days of
the crisis Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was at Maura's side.
"Tom was incredible," she says. "I don't know if I could have
gone through it without him. He really kept me together."

Slowly, Weis came back from the brink, but he had suffered nerve
damage in his legs. He arrived at training camp in late July and
drove around in a cart at most of the preseason practices. He
graduated to a four-pronged cane, which he abandoned in early

These days Weis is most concerned with programming a winning
offense--and raising his profile so he can fulfill his dream of
being a head coach. After 13 years as an NFL assistant, he thinks
he's ready. He's done a good job in New England matching what he
wants to do on offense to his players' skills. "We look at who
we're playing and alter our game plan accordingly," Weis says.
"We don't just do things one way. You can't do that in football

However, there's no buzz about Weis among front-office people
around the league, and there probably won't be until the
Patriots' offense plays more consistently--and Weis is fully
healthy. Of course, it will be interesting to see if anyone holds
his stomach-stapling against him. In the macho world of pro
football, it's not cool to acknowledge that you have a problem
and need help to control it. Weis understands. "I think I'm ready
to be a head coach," he says. "If what's happened to me is a
deterrent to that, well, that'll be a shame. Owners should want
to hire the best coaches, and whether you're fat, thin, black or
white shouldn't matter."

High Priest
K.C.'s Holmes at The Top Again

The Chiefs' Priest Holmes raised eyebrows in 2001 when he won the
league rushing title with a 1,555-yard season. Now he is really
shocking people by closing in on a second crown. With five games
left, Holmes has a 111yard lead over the Chargers' LaDainian
Tomlinson. More impressive, since the start of the 2001 season,
the 5'9", 213-pound Holmes is the only back in the league to have
averaged at least 100 yards rushing per game. During a 39--32
loss to the Seahawks on Sunday, he ran for 197 yards and two
touchdowns. He added seven catches for 110 yards and another
touchdown, giving him 20 TDs for the year. No wonder he's being
mentioned in the same breath as the best multipurpose back in the
game, the Rams' Marshall Faulk, who holds the NFL single-season
record for touchdowns, with 26 in 2000.

"I'm not old enough to say where Holmes ranks among the alltime
greats, but I know where he ranks now," Seattle cornerback Ken
Lucas said after Sunday's game. "He has to be Number 1 or Number
2. We played the Priest Holmes Chiefs today. This is his team."

Colts Could Be Sitting Pretty

The team that might be in the best shape to get home field
advantage throughout the AFC playoffs? How about the Colts, who
have won in Philadelphia and snowy Denver during a winning streak
that has stretched to three games? One of five teams with a
conference-best 7--4 record, Indianapolis plays three of its last
five at home, including season-ending games against the Giants
and Jaguars. The Colts' challenge could be the two-game road trip
they face against the Titans and the Browns, starting on Dec.
8.... Cowboys quarterback Chad Hutchinson, who spent four years
as a pitcher in the Cardinals' organization, started for only the
fourth time in his career on Sunday and paid his first dividend
in a 21--19 win over Jacksonville. He threw for 301 yards and two
touchdowns. "Roger Staubach told me Chad reminds him of himself
when he came back to football from the Navy after his long
layoff," coach Dave Campo says. "What you don't see yet is a
pocket presence, but he's tough, smart, competitive and a
workaholic." ... He has said nothing publicly, but Raiders
wideout Jerry Rice has decided to return next year for his 19th
season, during which he'll turn 41. In so doing he will set the
bar so high for career catches that no player even in this
pass-happy era will have the remotest chance of equaling him.
Rice is 63 receptions from 1,500, and no one else has 1,100.

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COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON Weis thought that shedding his old look (inset) might help himland a top job. COLOR PHOTO: AMY SANCETTA/AP (INSET) [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: OTTO GREULE JR./GETTY IMAGES The versatile Holmes is on pace to set the single-season recordfor touchdowns.