Sam Wyche was down to his final day.
Doctors had said as much to the former Bucs coach as he waited for a heart transplant at Carolinas Medical Center last month.
"They came in that morning, said, 'We have bad news. We don't have a heart. This is our last day. All the other options are gone. Our next option is to make you comfortable and send you to hospice,' " Wyche said.
That afternoon, Wyche's son, an assistant high school football coach in Cincinnati, prayed for his father with his entire team. His grandson did the same with his team before the statue of Mary at Cincinnati's Moeller High School.
Within the hour, back in Charlotte, doctors returned to Wyche's room with news that a donor had been found.
At 2:30 the next morning, the 71-year-old retired NFL coach had a heart transplant, and four hours later, the surgery was a success.
"It's just a miracle," Wyche said recently by phone from his home in South Carolina, where he's recovering well. "I got a heart at the last minute. Literally at the last half a day I could have survived."
Wyche said he's grateful for the countless prayers sent — both that afternoon, and before and since, from former players and fans of his former teams in Cincinnati and Tampa.
"It's probably circumstantial things," Wyche said. "But there's power in prayer. I believe it."
On the same day the Bucs were in town to pull off an improbable victory over the Panthers, Wyche made the three-hour drive back to Charlotte for a battery of tests to see how his new heart is doing.
Today marks exactly one month since his transplant.
Doctors tell him he's "in the top bracket in terms of re-entering the human race." He's exercising and walking daily at his home in Pickens, S.C., not far from where he met his wife, Jane, a half-century ago when they were students at Furman.
Given a fresh start with a new heart, Wyche is making a public push to get more people to become organ donors, giving them the chance to save someone's life, as someone did for him.
He's reaching out to the NFL, trying to get each team to record videos with their top players reminding fans at games to register to be donors.
"You just stand up and shoot it: 'My name is Sam Wyche, and I'm an organ donor. You should be, too.' Boom. It'd take about 3½ seconds," he said.
"One a quarter and all of a sudden you have a lot of exposure. I wouldn't be here unless somebody had put on their driver's license that they wanted to be a donor. I've been given a second chance and want to see if I can help somebody else get one."
Wyche coached the Bucs from 1992-95, going 23-41. While he didn't have the same success he did with the Bengals, whom he led to the 1988 Super Bowl, he has fond memories of his time in Tampa, which include drafting a pair of future Hall of Famers — linebacker Derrick Brooks and defensive tackle Warren Sapp — and safety John Lynch, the cornerstone of the team's Super Bowl-winning 2002 season.
He was planning to return Nov. 3 when Lynch, who played for him in 1994-95, is inducted into the Bucs' Ring of Honor. But doctors say Wyche can't fly for three months after the transplant, so he won't be able to attend, but he has a message to share.
"Help spread the word for me," Wyche said. "It's painless. Your fate has already been determined. You have a chance to give somebody else a second chance. It's the last and most important gift you can give."