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July 22, 2013

NFL injury risk has Hall-of-Fame dad concerned for rookie son

(Continued)

He finished with a few remarks that captured the NFL's double-edged, liability-conscious attitude toward concussions. "Right now, we're learning a little bit more about long-term brain damage." He added, "No direct cause and effect has been established yet."

Kyle took it all in, scribbling notes and raising his hand to ask questions. "I want to take care of my body better than my dad did," Kyle says, "so I can have better quality of life when I get out of the league."

Howie Long played the game with an almost animal intensity. When Diane watched him through the binoculars, she never worried for her husband.

"I worried about the guy across the line from him," she says.

But with that came the physical price. Twenty years removed from his playing days, he has been told he needs at least three more surgeries, including a shoulder replacement. He can no longer play golf. Even a hike or a bike ride depends on the day and how he's feeling.

"You know, he's really, really, really beat up," says Diane, an attorney who has been married to Howie for 31 years.

Diane still takes her binoculars to games. Between watching one son on the field in St. Louis and another in Oregon last year, the Longs have been transformed from sophisticated NFL observers into anxious parents. Diane studies her sons through the lenses, looking for body language that might suggest an injury, checking the expressions on their faces. Howie watches for the unexpected danger that leads to injury, the busted play that alters the high-velocity traffic like cars going the wrong way down streets.

At the end of every play, they are on the edge of their seats, watching the pile. "Get up," they think. "Get up, get up, get up, get up."

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