Chicago Sun-Times
with Tina Akouris

The inspirational story of Northwestern's Marty Long

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            When you hear the term "football family" in describing Northwestern, believe it.

            Marty Long certainly does.

            Long, the Wildcats defensive line coach, found out first hand what it means to be a part of NU's football family.

            After NU found out they were headed to the Outback Bowl last December, Long started feeling discomfort in his sinuses and was having headaches. The symptoms increased, but that didn't stop Long from going to Florida with Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald on a recruiting trip prior to the bowl game.

            "I would not let Pat drive [on the trip] even though I was having massive headaches," Long said. "When we got back to town he said I needed to see the doctor. After a staff meeting the other guys told me I was really out of it. I didn't know I was out of it and I went to the doctor."

            The family started to circle the wagons and help Long. Assistant coach Jerry Brown and Long have the same doctor, and at Fitzgerald's insistence Long agreed to have a check up. Brown made the appointment, Long went to the doctor after that staff meeting and the news of what was really wrong hit him like an electric shock.

            A tumor on the pituitary gland.

            The pituitary gland sits in the base of the brain and is the size of a pea. The gland secretes hormones and helps regulate blood pressure, the thyriod gland and the body's metabolism among other things.

            Long was lucky, because he went to the doctor in the nick of time. Long's doctor sent him to Evanston Hospital for emergency surgery on Dec. 11, 2009 because the tumor had burst and was bleeding.

            "I remember it just like it was yesterday, and it was something I would not wish on anyone," Long said. "I was more worried about my players. We had [freshman lineman] Will Hampton visiting that weekend and I wanted to be there for him and all I can remember was whining to my wife [Donna] that I wanted to be with my guys. The players are like my kids."

            Fifth-year senior Corbin Bryant is a defensive line veteran. When Long got sick, Bryant and his teammates were worried but knew Long would be tough enough to pull through. Long's illness made Bryant and the d-line work harder in preparation for the Outback Bowl.

            "We were definitely worried about him and we all went over to his house to see him and talk to him, but we knew in practice that we had to carry on and we were doing it for him," Bryant said. "We were trying to win the bowl game for him, and even if it didn't come out that way we pushed ourselves harder because we love coach so much."

            Bryant said he hadn't noticed anything different about Long before the tumor was found. Coach just seemed like coach, getting after his "kids" and yelling at them during practice.

            Fitzgerald requested that the players not go to the hospital to see Long, preferring to wait until he was home. Long was hospitalized for nine days.

            "When the time came he welcomed us over and gave us a good pep talk before the bowl game," Bryant said. "Ever since he's been here, my play has risen to a higher level. It's because of him and he's teaching me the ins and outs of football."

            With Long on the mend, defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz took over coaching the defensive line along with Long's graduate assistant, Matt Clark.

            There was uncertainty at first if doctors had removed all of the tumor, but what they did remove was benign. After the surgery Long had double vision for about two weeks and went through physical therapy for two months.

            Long had a six month checkup recently and found out the tumor has not grown back.

            "We're lucky he got it all," Long said. "These tumors continue to come back and they can blind you, which is what I was worried about. If a coach doesn't have his eyes it's hard to coach."

            The family got together and cooked three weeks worth of meals for Donna Long so she could take care of her husband. Hankwitz and his family went over to Long's home to shovel snow and clear the Long's driveway so there was one less thing for them to worry about. And Fitzgerald assured Long that his job wasn't going anywhere. It would be waiting for him when he got healthy.

            "I'm the sole breadwinner in my family and that would be a big change if I couldn't get back to work," Long said. "Between the players and coaches and their families, everybody just pulled together to make it easier on my family and I."

            And they did it because that's what families do.

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This page contains a single entry by Tina Akouris published on October 27, 2010 10:17 AM.

Northwestern learns from another loss was the previous entry in this blog.

With honors for Northwestern's Dan Persa, Corbin Bryant is the next entry in this blog.

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