Phelps wins second bout with cancer

Analyst beginning 20th year with ESPN

Digger Phelps was only 32 when he recorded his signature moment on the court. On Jan. 19, 1974, the Notre Dame basketball coach defeated John Wooden and ended UCLA's record 88-game winning streak with a 71-70 victory in South Bend.

Now 40 years later, Phelps will be inducted in the Irish's Basketball Ring of Honor on Jan. 19.

"We beat seven No. 1 teams," said Phelps of his 20-year run on the Notre Dame bench.

Yet when Phelps thinks of his most significant victories these days, it has nothing to do with basketball.

"I'm 2-0 against cancer," Phelps said. "I don't want to try for the hat trick."

Indeed, the 72-year-old college basketball analyst for ESPN will be giving thanks during the holidays for overcoming a second bout with cancer. In 2010, he underwent treatment for prostate cancer. Then in April, Phelps learned he was suffering from bladder cancer.

Phelps insists he went into coach mode after receiving a second cancer diagnosis.

"I told the doctor, 'OK, what's the game plan?'" Phelps said.

Phelps reports he is cancer free following the initial treatment. He continues a maintenance program to make sure the cancer doesn't return.

Phelps' brushes with cancer now have him coaching up in a different way. He is trying to alert men about the importance of getting annual physicals that include prostate and bladder screenings.

When Phelps turned 60, he made a point of going regularly to his doctor. Now he goes twice a year, and he thinks it might have saved his life.

"If I went for a physical in last October and something kicks in November, and I wait until next October to see the doctor again, I could have had some serious issues here," Phelps said. "Men need to stop being macho. Make yourself a priority and get yourself checked."

Armed with a clean bill of health, he is looking forward to another year of college basketball. When it comes to statistics, this one takes him aback: Phelps is beginning his 20th year as an analyst for ESPN.

"That's as long as I coached at Notre Dame," Phelps said.

Phelps, though, has no intention of stopping. Even though he doesn't like that college basketball has turned into a 3-point shooting contest, he still loves getting to dissect the big moments at the end of the games.

After all these years, Phelps still is a showman at heart. He pulls out a green highlighter and holds it up against the green tie he is wearing. Somewhere along the way, the matching highlighter-tie combination "became my M.O.," much like the green carnation he wore as coach of the Irish.

"Everywhere I go, people say, 'Where's your highlighter?'" Phelps said.

Phelps appears to be having too much fun to think about retiring. His work at ESPN takes him to college campuses throughout the country. That's where he truly is in his element.

"I've lived at Notre Dame for 42 years," Phelps said. "I still go to the dorms and speak just like I did 40 years ago. People say, 'Why are you still living (in South Bend)?' Well, I'm not a Florida guy. I'm not a Palm Springs guy. I'm a campus guy."

Flashback: Comcast SportsNet offers some relief for fans who could use a boost after the Bears' loss Sunday in St. Louis. Wednesday at 9:30 p.m., it will unveil "Bears Classics," a new documentary series highlighting memorable games in team history. CSN's Chuck Garfien is the director and writer and Willie Parker is the producer.

The first installment in the one-hour films will be the Bears' 24-23 victory over the Cardinals on Oct. 16, 2006. The Bears' rally from a 20-0 deficit featured Devin Hester's electrifying 83-yard punt return for a touchdown. The game then achieved a measure of immortality with Cardinals coach Dennis Green's postgame rant of "They are who we thought they were!"

"I think that's what made that game legendary was just his comments after the game," said former Bears center Olin Kreutz in the film. "I mean, he went crazy."

The documentary, narrated by Bill Kurtis, features interviews with players such as Brian Urlacher and behind-the-scenes footage.

Bloom off Rose: Television networks also will feel the pain from Derrick Rose's season-ending knee injury. Locally, Comcast SportsNet and WGN-Ch. 9 likely will see lower ratings without the superstar in the Bulls lineup, especially if the team struggles.

Elsewhere, the anticipated return of Rose had ESPN, TNT, ABC, and NBA TV scheduling several Bulls games for national TV. ABC is down for two Heat-Bulls games going coast-to-coast on Sundays in 2014.

Considering the NBA is a superstar-driven league, the marquee value of those national games will be far less without Rose. It remains to be seen if the networks make adjustments if the Bulls fall out of playoff contention.

 
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