Goodell says Panthers owner Richardson progressing after heart surgery

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made a prediction Tuesday after visiting with Jerry Richardson for the first time since the Carolina Panthers' owner underwent a heart transplant.

"I think the Big Cat will be roaring pretty quick," Goodell said, referring to Richardson's nickname within the franchise.

Goodell spent about an hour with Richardson at his home before the commissioner spoke at the Charlotte Touchdown Club's luncheon. Richardson, 72, has rested at home for three months since he was released from the hospital following the transplant surgery on Super Bowl Sunday.

"He's pretty focused on issues that are facing the league and facing the Panthers," Goodell said. "I know he's grateful for the kind of support that he's gotten from everybody in this community."

Richardson, a former teammate of Johnny Unitas with the Baltimore Colts, had a history of heart trouble and underwent quadruple-bypass surgery in 2002. Richardson had a pacemaker installed last year, but he continued to feel ill from congestive heart failure and was placed on the transplant waiting list in December.

The surgery was a success, and Goodell said Richardson is gaining strength.

"He looks trim, and he's making progress," Goodell said.

Richardson's sons, Mark and Jon, have run the Panthers in his absence and will represent the team at next week's owners meetings.

"One of the great things about leadership is when you're not there, your franchise and your organization continue to operate effectively," Goodell said. "And that's a hallmark of Jerry Richardson."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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