ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) – Bills tight end Tommy Sweeney’s 2020 season ended before he ever got to play a game.
First he missed all of training camp last year and the start of the season recovering from foot surgery. And just when he was ready to return, Sweeney tested positive for Covid-19 in week 7.
But that’s not what cut his season short, it’s what developed because of it. Sweeney was diagnosed with myocarditis, a heart condition that stems from Covid-19. It’s inflammation of the heart muscle that can cause many complications such as shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat or chest pain just to name a few difficulties. It also makes it tough to circulate blood and oxygen throughout the body.
Doctors found this during Sweeney’s echocardiogram that players must have after testing positive and before returning to the team. Once he was diagnosed, doctors not only shut down his season but his workouts for the next three months.
“It was a very different time because I’ve been playing football since I was in seventh grade so it was the first season I didn’t do anything. I couldn’t lift weights, couldn’t do this, couldn’t do that so physically I felt almost deflated,” Sweeney told News 4 Sports.
“It was a weird feeling just because every day I couldn’t over exert myself so it was very different. Coming out of that three months, it wasn’t shocking but it was a lot of rest.”
Thankfully, Sweeney’s symptoms were not severe which is remarkable given he was dealing with a heart condition.
“It was mostly mild just the first couple days after I tested positive I had a cough stuff like that. I never felt anything in the heart area so it was really just those first couple days, had a cough and a fever but other than that really nothing which was kind of surprising to find out that they found that,” Sweeney explained.
Sweeney was able to restart his workouts after doctors cleared him for physical activity in early February. At that point, the Bills season was over after falling short in the AFC Title game. So Sweeney started eyeing his return for 2021.
“Doing push-ups and pull-ups was like amazing. It felt awesome,” Sweeney laughed.
I’m not sure anyone has ever referred to doing push-ups and pull-ups as “amazing” but that’s what happens when an athlete is forced to completely shut down what they’re used to doing every day.
And it isn’t just the physical side of things that this heart condition impacted. The mental aspect of this is very real especially not being a part of the Bills deep playoff run. Sweeney said it was very frustrating.
“Very much so. I was kind of preparing to come off the PUP list and get back out there and stuff and then this happened. It was brutal, really no other way around it. Just sitting out for three months and it was great how successful the team was but watching that on the couch it’s not nearly what it is being out there on the field and that’s all I wanted to do,” Sweeney said.
“So it was tough, it was frustrating but there was nothing that could have been done otherwise. I just had to do the best to take it for what it was, add fuel to the fire.”
“It’s almost like he’s a rookie all over again. He’s not you know but he missed a whole year so he’s getting his feet back underneath him but he has the right mindset. He’s a smart, tough, dependable guy that will work hard and give you everything he has. He’ll put his best foot forward come training camp,” Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said.
And Sweeney understands what Daboll means when he says it’s like he’s a rookie all over again especially since this is just his third season in the NFL but it will be just his second as far as playing experience goes after missing all of last year.
“At first, yeah like when I was first getting going again and running routes again and blocking and footwork and stuff, definitely. Once I got back out on the field in a practice setting I feel like I’ve pretty much had a good handle on it,” Sweeney said.
And there were a lot of emotions getting back to the facility.
“It was a lot, it was a cool feeling putting the jersey back on, no pads but putting the cleats on, put the jersey on, put the helmet on it’s been a while and obviously there was some uncertainty during that whole time so going out and doing it was awesome. It just, it felt right and really happy to be back,” Sweeney explained.
Sweeney worked out in Buffalo with the Bills training staff during the offseason and has practiced during the team’s OTAs so far. He said he has no limitations or restrictions from doctors but they are of course “keeping tabs” on it.
And while the topic of getting the Covid-19 vaccine is a hot button issue around the NFL, Sweeney knows his teammates saw what he went though.
“Majority of the team was here as it was happening. I was back out of quarantine when I got the diagnosis so they know and I’m certainly no expert. I mean I know it happened to me and thankfully they were all around me when it happened so they know so they have a good idea of what happened and how real that is.”
“If anyone needs a reason to, or more information about, whether or not to get vaccinated or not or the Covid situation, I mean, Tommy, he missed all of last season. It affected him for some time,” Bills head coach Sean McDermott said in May.
Now Sweeney looks to put this situation behind him and focus on the 2021 season.
“I’ve got a lot to prove and gotta go out and do it.”