Don Meredith's Fatal Hemorrhage: Was Football to Blame?

This Sept. 1980, photo provided by American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. shows ABC Monday Night Football commentators, from left, Don Meredith, Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford. Meredith, one of the most recognizable figures of the early Dallas Cowboys and an original member of ABC's "Monday Night Football" broadcast team, died Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010, in Santa Fe, N.M., He was 72.(AP Photo/ABC, Steve Fenn)
AP Photo/ABC, Steve Fenn
don meredith
This Sept. 1980, photo shows Don Meredith (left) with his fellow ABC Monday Night Football commentators, Howard Cosell (center) and Frank Gifford. Meredith died Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010, in Santa Fe, N.M. (AP Photo/ABC, Steve Fenn)

(CBS/AP) What killed Don Meredith? His wife, Susan, said the beloved former quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys died Sunday of a brain hemorrhage - in other words, a stroke.

Did his long, bruising career in the NFL play a role in his demise?

Meredith, who was 72 at the time of his death, certainly survived a lot of hits on the field during his years with the Cowboys. "Our offensive line was not very good early on," said Lee Roy Jordan, a former Cowboys linebacker. "He got beat up pretty bad - broken noses and collarbones and ribs, everything you can think of, Don had it."

But could all those hits help trigger a stroke decades later? Atherosclerosis - a buildup of stroke- and heart attack-causing arterial "plaques" - is more prevalent in retired pro football players, according to recent research. But experts say there's no way to tell whether Meredith's stroke had anything to do with his time as a player.

"A cerebral hemorrhage is not a rare event" in a man of Meredith's age, cardiologist Dr. Carl J. Pepine, professor of medicine at the University of Florida at Gainesville, told CBS News.

What's more, hemorrhagic strokes of the type that apparently killed Meredith are generally not the result of atherosclerosis, according to Dr. Todd Hurst, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist who has studied the health of retired football players. "Usually that is not because they have plaque building up, but because they have high blood pressure or protein in their small blood vessels," he told CBS News.

Meredith was one of the most recognizable Cowboys players in the Cowboys' early years, playing from 1960 to 1968. Two years after hanging up his helmet, "Dandy Don," as he was known, joined Keith Jackson and Howard Cosell in the broadcast booth as part of the "Monday Night Football" crew.

He quickly became one of the most popular broadcasters in sports because of his folksy sayings and country humor. Meredith's signature call was singing the famous Willie Nelson song "Turn Out the Lights" when it appeared a game's outcome had been determined.

"He was the best there was," Meredith's wife said, describing him as kind, warm and funny. "We lost a good one."