Before Feehery's own mind took spins he couldn't stop.
Feehery, a Delaware County guy his whole life, now 52 and living in Media, was one of the
original seven plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the National Football League, a suit that has grown to include more than 4,000 former NFL players.
The suit, filed in federal court in Philadelphia, seeks lifetime medical monitoring for ex-players, and contends the NFL concealed the cumulative effect of multiple concussions from players. The league has contended the suits should be dismissed because they are preempted under federal labor law by the collective-bargaining agreement with players. A hearing on motions to dismiss is scheduled for April 9.
Feehery is a tough man himself. Growing up, his football heroes spoke to his mind-set: Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke. Hall of Fame tough guys.
"I played the game to hurt people," Feehery said as he recently sat in the basement of his home. "I hit with my head, and I was trying to knock people out of games."
He meant, he said, before he got to the NFL - at Cardinal O'Hara, even in grade school, at St. Francis in Springfield.
"My idea was, the way you win a game was knock as many of the players out of the game" as possible, Feehery said.
In the NFL, he was among kindred spirits. Are any NFL offensive linemen, even backups, on the kickoff team racing downfield? Feehery guesses he may have been the last one. He did it early in his NFL career, which began as an undrafted free agent out of Syracuse in 1983 and lasted six seasons, mostly with Ryan's Eagles, including 24 starts at center. Feehery knew about pain. He had anterior cruciate ligament surgeries on each knee, which ended his career.
Feehery can remember nailing Chicago Bears linebacker Mike Singletary, then getting a retaliatory hit that he saw coming at the last moment. Feehery got up and wandered into the wrong huddle, not noticing that he was surrounded by Bears. Another time, he ended up on the wrong sideline after being blindsided on a kickoff. Each time, a teammate retrieved him, and he kept playing.
He relates all this with no great display of pride or bitterness.
"I had a GPS in my mind," Feehery said of his NFL days. "I never was lost. I would just drive and just go places and find my way back, because I enjoyed doing that. . . . Now, if I didn't have [the GPS] in my car, I'd get lost going to places I've been going to for years. I've had blackouts. I've had times when I've had to call my wife to come get me."
It wasn't long after his playing days, maybe five years, that the worst symptoms appeared, Feehery said. His mind would start racing. It terrified him, he said. "I couldn't remember what it was like to have a peaceful moment."
Suicidal thoughts crept in, he said, adding that it's "not as dark now" as some years back. Medical treatments helped incrementally, he said, but never completely. Several years ago, Feehery said, he underwent electroconvulsive therapy to treat his depression.
Most of all, he said, "my relationship with God has helped me immensely." And his wife, "she's the real hero." They've raised three productive children. One daughter is a nurse, a son is a Marine after graduating from the Naval Academy, their youngest daughter is in high school.
For Feehery, carrying on may be his most impressive feat.
"The darkest was back when it first started," Feehery said, going back two decades in his mind, until shortly after he did a stint as O'Hara's football coach. He was all right when he coached, he said.
And it's not as if the brain is the only body part affected by his football career. "When you don't have ACLs, you can't run, can't play basketball. I've had problems with my elbows, my feet. Headaches, neck aches, back aches. I probably keep Advil in business right now. I probably take 12 a day."
He can't know with certainty the cause of his brain issues, Feehery said, just that his relatives and friends haven't experienced similar symptoms.
His work has been affected, Feehery said. He now manages buildings for a health-services company. "They're a great company, but I've never been able to move any higher than I am now because of the issues that I have." Earlier that day, he said, someone pointed out to him that he'd found the elevator key and put it on a table. He didn't remember anything about it.
"It may seem like a little thing," Feehery said. "But those are things that happen every day. I sit there and try to read something, concentrate. I start to get bad headaches. I just can't follow through with it. It becomes kind of painstaking."
Asked about scans on his brain, Feehery said: "There was one out in California. The guy said there was something there, definitely memory loss. The main thing with those studies that I've seen, they're kind of worthless because they don't see how it affects you day-to-day. They give you different tests - some of the things I was good at, some I wasn't. They don't talk to your wife. Some of those [tests] are basically - I look at it now as just another way for people to make money."
Feehery has no idea how many concussions he suffered over the years, or what even constituted a concussion.
"We just did what we were told and were taught," Feehery said. "No one back then ever said to worry about [concussions]. It was, 'How many fingers do I have up?' 'Two, OK, he's all right.' Can't tell you how many ammonia capsules I used through my career, from high school on up . . . you're foggy, that gets you back in the game."
Mike Webster was a teammate and a friend in Kansas City. Feehery broke into the league with Andre Waters. One died homeless, his brain spent; the other killed himself. It still gnaws at Feehery what football did to both men.
After Webster, a Hall of Famer, died in 2002 of a heart attack, and Waters died in 2006 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, their brains were examined. There were signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive degenerative disease of the brain.
"A guy like that was pretty much NFL royalty," Feehery said of Webster. "He was what the NFL wanted to be - gritty, determined, hardworking, hard-nosed."
Feehery saw Waters the same way others did: "He was a hard hitter. Every play, whether it was practice or a game, he brought it, with his big old head."
Of the lawsuit he is a part of, Feehery said: "I'll probably be dead and gone by the time it gets settled." His hope is that if the suit goes in the retired players' favor, it will help them "get help without jumping through hoops."
He knows rules are being changed to try to protect players; that hitting isn't allowed in practice as much; that the NFL is a safer league than when he played; that centers, for instance, are protected more. On Thursday, the NFL said it expects to have independent neurological consultants on the sidelines during games next season.
"You don't see offensive linemen use their heads as much as battering rams," Feehery said. "You can watch the game - even on the run plays, the head adjustment is to the side. They're trying to get an angle and push and stretch the field."
However, Feehery said: "I ask this question, and nobody's given me a great answer: Who teaches you how to coach now?"
Speaking to reporters on Friday in New Orleans, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said: "I'll stand up. I'll be accountable. It's part of my responsibility. I'll do everything. But the players have to do it. The coaches have to do it. Our officials have to do it. Our medical professionals have to do it."
Feehery doesn't believe football is in danger of going away. Too much money is being made. He figures he could have adjusted to changing techniques. But he isn't sure.
"People said, 'Oh, you're such a nice guy. How can you do that?' " Feehery said of his on-field aggressiveness. "I wish I hadn't thought to play that way."
Feehery agreed to continue the interview while watching the first quarter of the playoff game between Atlanta and Seattle. As he talked, Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, showing off some nimble footwork, caught a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone.
"What great body control," Feehery said, mentioning in his matter-of-fact way: "Plays like that are just as exciting as big hits."
Contact Mike Jensen at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @jensenoffcampus.
This article contains information from the Associated Press.