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Panthers' Richardson on donor waiting list for heart transplant

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, the first former NFL player since George Halas to become a team owner, is in need of a heart transplant and has been placed on a donor waiting list.

The 72-year-old Richardson has been hospitalized since last week after complaining he didn't feel well. After a battery of tests, doctors determined he need a transplant, a team spokesman said Wednesday.

Provided a donor heart can be found, Richardson will undergo the surgery at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte. 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 was placed on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) heart transplant waiting list on Tuesday, according to a statement released by the team.

Richardson has a history of heart trouble and underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 2002. Doctors last month installed a pacemaker to control his heart's rhythm.

"We've been familiar that he's not being feeling well," Panthers coach John Fox told the team's web site on Thursday. "The good news is that they know what's wrong. Now it's just getting healthy, and we feel real confident he will. "

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. He has served on powerful committees and is on the negotiating team with the players union on the league's collective bargaining agreement.

"He's been in those trenches," said Fox. "He's been in those rooms. He understands football. Not that other owners don't get it, I've been blessed to be around some very good owners. But I think that fact does help a lot, because they understand how hard it is. "

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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