Jim Kiick, one-third of the Dolphins’ legendary championship backfield of the 1970s, has “near-definite CTE leading to dementia,” Sports Illustrated is reporting today, citing the diagnosis of NFL-approved neurologist David B. Ross.
SI reported that Kiick, 70, was placed in an assisted-living facility last year after living in squalor, failing to take care of either himself or his apartment and consuming an alarming amount of medications. His condition deteriorated to the point that last July, he was hospitalized with heart failure.
CTE — chronic traumatic encephalopathy — is the traumatic brain disease that has been discovered in numerous deceased football players, including Junior Seau and Andre Waters, who committed suicide. Certain diagnosis can only be made posthumously.
In order to collect from the settlement between NFL and retired players, Kiick’s family had him examined by Ross, of Plantation.
What Ross discovered was alarming.
“I’ve dealt with a few football players and other sports people, and most of the time you don’t see clear evidence of traumatic brain injury because it’s usually microscopic,” Ross told SI’s Scott Price. “Jim actually had signs of contusion: bruises. You can see it clearly: It’s called ‘encephalomalacia’ —wasting or hardening; there are areas of the brain where there are gaps, and that’s where a specific brain injury occurred. It’s the stuff you see after significant localized head trauma or stroke.
“He has holes in his brain. Earlier in his career he had enough impact that he had bruises on his brain that left scars and holes. So there’s no question that he suffered significant brain trauma. This is more than Alzheimer’s. This is more than frontal-lobe dementia, Parkinson’s dementia. This is more than infection. He had brain trauma, and that’s unequivocal.”
Tracing the source of that trauma is not difficult. Although listed at 5-feet-11, 214 pounds, Kiick was called upon by coach Don Shula to often block for Hall of Fame fullback Larry Csonka (6-3, 237). That made sense, said former Pro Bowl guard Bob Kuechenberg, because Kiick was the best blocker in a backfield that also included 1,000-yard rusher Mercury Morris.
But the toll on Kiick became obvious to former tight end Marv Fleming at an autograph signing in Chicago about two years ago. Fleming said Kiick had a “far-off-distance look” in his eyes and appeared to have difficulty with comprehension.
Nonetheless, Kiick’s long-term memory remains fairly sound, SI reported.
“I had many, many discussions with Coach Shula, arguing, ‘I don’t understand why a guy at 215 is blocking for a guy at 240,’ ” Kiick told Price. “He gave me a dirty look and said, ‘Just get back in there.’
“I got dizzy, got dinged a few times. You’d come to the sidelines and they’d ask, ‘How many fingers have I got up?’ And you’d say four or three or whatever, and they’d say, ‘Close enough.’ We were playing because we enjoyed the game. We were too naïve to realize that, in the future years, this could affect us, our life, the brains. We just went back in and got dinged again.”
Although Kiick could be overshadowed by Csonka and Morris, his place in Dolphins lore is secure. He and Csonka formed the famous “Butch and Sundance” tandem, and Kiick scored important touchdowns in playoff victories over Kansas City, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
Kiick also scored the winning touchdown on a 1-yard run in the 14-7 victory over Washington in Super Bowl VII to complete the 17-0 season.
Csonka, who spends his summers fishing in Alaska, did not immediately return a message from The Post seeking comment.
The SI report traces the heartache faced by Allie Kiick, Jim’s daughter and a rising 25-year-old tennis player, and son Austin, a former defensive back at Fort Lauderdale’s St. Thomas Aquinas High.
“People have no idea what we’re going through with my dad,” Allie said. “For the past four or five years, I really haven’t had a father.”
His forgetfulness is such that she blocked him on her phone at night to avoid being woken up at 3 a.m. because “he just doesn’t know any better.”
She spent the summer of 2014 playing in Europe and spotted a sharp decline in her father upon returning.
“He just acts like a kid, in every way now — not taking care of himself. We tell him what to do and he listens, but he was pooping his pants, all that stuff. So I — literally — mean that he had turned into a kid.”
Before Jim was placed in an assisted-living facility, Austin was his caretaker, having dropped out of college to do so, but the conditions in which his father lived kept deteriorating. His Super Bowl ring from the 17-0 season went missing and “he was eating Advil like jelly beans,” SI wrote.
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