RIEN LONG: Looking for laughs
PULLMAN -- Rien Long, the celebrated Outland Trophy winner from Washington State’s glory days a decade ago, has been out of the public eye since his NFL career was undone prematurely by injuries. Today, seven years since he took his last NFL snap, the pain of losing that career so quickly makes it almost impossible for him to even watch a game on TV.
But he hasn’t lost his ability to laugh (he’s pursuing a career as a standup comic) or love (he raves about his 10-year-old son Gavon).
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Pro ball, though, still gnaws at him.
“I mean, I made 'The League,' but that wasn’t enough for me,” Long told CF.C in a phone interview from his home in Nashville. “I wanted to play through the first contract and earn the big bucks. I wanted that second contract, the big one.”
Long was a fourth-round draft pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2003 following his first-team All-American junior season at WSU in 2002.
His first contract with the Titans was a four-year deal totaling $1.67 million. After three productive seasons with the Titans, he entered 2006 with 9.5 sacks and 39 starts under his belt. The future looked bright.
Then the injuries started.
“It sucked, you have no idea,” Long told CF.C in a phone interview from his home in Nashville. “I headed to Clarksville (Tenn.) for my fourth camp and blew out my right Achilles on the first day.
“I worked my ass off for six to eight weeks,” Long said of the rehab process. “Then, I get out of the walking boot, first day out of it I re-tweaked (the same Achilles) pretty good. Back to the boot I went.”
LONG HAD SURGERY and the 2006 season was lost. But that soon became the least of Long’s concerns.
“I got that surgery, but it never healed,” he said. “It developed the MRSA infection and there was an open wound there for six to eight months. It destroyed my Achilles. The infection just ate it up.”
The Titans put him injured reserve for 2007 and then waived him.
After rehabbing for almost a year and a half, Long again began to train in earnest for another shot in the NFL. That’s when he tore cartilage in his left knee.
And then came the scariest chapter in his injury odysessy.
Shortly after tearing up the knee, Long’s football career -- and nearly his life – came to a permanent end in a grisly car accident.
“Heath Ledger and I died on the same night,” Long said of his January 2008 accident. “Thing is, I somehow made it through it.”
The Long File
Years in Crimson:
Size: 6-6, 300
First-team all-Pac-10 and first-team All-American in 2002; 2002 Outland Trophy winner as the nation's top interior lineman.
In 2002 was the national leader among defensive tackles in sacks (13) and tackles for loss (21.5).
4th-round draft pick, played three seasons, 2003-05, all with Tennessee.
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Long said he was driving his Ford Mustang, the self-proclaimed ‘fastest car in Tennessee,’ too fast on a slick highway on-ramp. The thrill-seeking Long lost control and hit a rock wall at more than 80 miles per hour.
“I crushed myself in my own car,” Long said. “I died in the ambulance, I died a couple days later in the hospital, but I’m still here.”
He was in critical condition with multiple injuries and spent 10 days at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Living, breathing and on the mend. But the NFL career was, for all intents and purposes, over.
"It's like having a big snickers bar,” Long said. “You take one bite of it, then somebody bumps you and it falls in a pile of dog crap. I wanted that whole snickers bar."
LONG TRIED TO resurrect his career in the humblest of ways, working out for the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League. Unfortunately for Long, his legs were not the same, and he retired shortly after joining the league.
“I can’t watch football anymore,” said Long, 31. “It’s like having a really hot girlfriend, and now I have to watch her with somebody else.”
39 STARTS WITH TITANS IN 3 SEASONS.
He attention now is focused on acting and stand-up comedy – so much so that he’s in the process of moving to Los Angeles to pursue the dream.
Wherever he goes, however, the rolling fields of the Palouse aren’t far from mind. He says he dearly misses Pullman and Cougar football. “I miss the whole town, I miss it so much,” Long said. “I miss the whole experience. I miss the football. I miss my teammates. You can't get that anywhere.”
LONG'S MEMORABLE WORK IN NAILBITING WIN OVER CARSON PALMER AND USC IN 2002 SENT TEAMMATE ISAAC BROWN LEAPING FOR JOY AND PUT THE COUGS ON A GLIDE PATH TO PASADENA.