In the NFL Howie played in, his body wasn't his own; it was a highly perishable commodity. In training camp he went through grueling, twice-a-day practices Mondays through Thursdays, and if you passed out it meant you weren't tough. "Water was for wussies," he says. He practiced five days a week in full gear, and every drill and every snap was all-out.
When he got hurt, doctors simply drained the ailing joint with a needle. They never showed him his medical records or gave him an option. "It was shocking what the training room was like and the things the team tried to explain away as something minor when it was potentially not," Diane says.
If the Long sons were going to play the game, Diane and Howie decided, their father needed to help coach them, teach them the things to look for and be aware of. Howie volunteered to coach three days a week at his sons' high school, St. Anne's Belfield in Charlottesville, Va. The boys still can quote the lectures: Football is a nasty game. There are bodies flying around — giant bodies, at all times, at high velocities. Be aware of where you are on the field.
"The guys who are just watching the ball, they get absolutely lit up," Kyle recites. "You see those guys on the 'Jacked Up' segment of ESPN? You don't want to be on that. . . . Know where people are coming from. You avoid the cheap shots. Stay away from piles. It's the guys who want to go bump into people at the piles who end up getting rolled up on.'"
He made his boys wear knee braces and gloves; he taped their ankles, wrists, fingers and thumbs. He made sure their chinstraps were buckled and taught them to get their helmets checked before every game.