HOUSTON (AP) -Joe ``Turkey'' Jones carries a few extra pounds and a healthy sprinkling of gray hair nearly 30 years after his NFL career.
Still, the strapping 59-year-old Jones is an athlete who swims every day, lifts weights twice a week and knows his body is no longer the well-tuned machine it was when he played defensive end for the Cleveland Browns in the 1970s.
That's why he decided to spend Saturday undergoing a series of medical tests offered through The Living Heart Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides health screenings for retired NFL players.
He was just about the oldest among nearly 50 former players who were poked and prodded, hooked up to electrodes, studied with ultrasound technology and examined for aches, pains and joint problems at The Methodist Hospital of Houston.
Players were as young as their 30s, some newly retired, and some played for teams that no longer exist - the Houston Oilers and Baltimore Colts, for example.
``This program is great,'' said Jones, who may be best known for slamming Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw on his head during a 1976 game. Bradshaw suffered a concussion and Jones was fined $3,000.
``This is a blessing. We, the retired ballplayers, desperately need it.''
The screenings will also be used as part of a three-year study to evaluate the health and risk factors of former players. There are about 16,000 retired NFL players.
The study comes at a time of conflict between the NFL and retired players who have been openly critical of the league and its players' union over how much older retirees get from a $1.1 billion fund set aside for disability and pensions. Congress has taken testimony on the dispute.
So far, nearly 1,500 players have been screened at 21 sites through the program, said Living Heart founder Dr. Archie Roberts, a heart surgeon and former backup quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. Roberts started the foundation after suffering a stroke eight years ago.
The average age of the players screened is 52, with most having played pro ball for about 3 1/2 years. That means the bulk of their lives are spent off the field, coping with the lasting effects of their playing years, Roberts said.
``When you are young, you are so robust, you don't think about getting sick,'' said Roberts.
As players get older, however, they feel the consequences of the physical demands of the sport - the collisions, the size requirements, the injuries.
``We're hoping with the data that we'll be able to see things that we can alter and modify, to reduce risks,'' Roberts said.
For some athletes, that change may start with awareness.
``As athletes, we're trained to fight through pain. I never paid attention to it,'' said Jones, who lives in Irving, Texas. Back then, Jones said he was just a ``young immature kid.''
That started to change after his mother died of colon cancer, and as he began to grow older and started suffering pains of his own. After experiencing shortness of breath and a racing heartbeat, Jones was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and takes medication for high cholesterol.
On Saturday, Jones' first stop was a carotid ultrasound, which uses sound waves to determine whether the pathway to the carotid artery in his neck is blocked.
As a technician ran a wand over the right side of his neck, Jones stared at a screen displaying a blurry image. That's your artery, the technician explained.
``Hello artery!'' Jones exclaimed. ``So what am I looking at, other than some worms?''
``Overall, it's pretty darn good,'' said Dr. Christie Ballantyne, medical director of the Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at the Methodist DeBakey Heart Center.
The next stop was weight and body fat measurements.
``Does this give my true height?'' he joked. ``I used to be 6-7.''
He is now 6-5 1/2. His waist: 42 inches. Hips: 40. Weight: 269.
The measurements are crucial in evaluating health risks, Ballantyne said. For example, Jones was told, carrying weight around the middle can drive down good cholesterol.
``The individual player gets some great benefits from this,'' Ballantyne said. ``They can get alerted to preventable risks. And it can help set an example for men in general, about getting screened.''

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