Three days a week Howie worked with the St. Anne's--Belfield football team as a volunteer assistant coach. After Chris committed to Virginia in the fall of his junior year—he made no other visits—opposing fans continued to serenade him with chants of "Howie, Howie." During a high school baseball game, as Chris took his lead off first, the first baseman told him, "I can't wait until you get to Virginia and get your ass kicked every day."
At the beginning the first baseman got his wish. As a freshman Chris had to practice against Cavaliers junior D'Brickashaw Ferguson, one of the best offensive tackles in the country. Lying on his back every afternoon, with Ferguson standing over him blocking out the sun, Chris thought about that smart-mouthed first baseman. He too wondered if he deserved everything he had. "It makes you question if you belong, if you're any good," Chris says.
Howie was mostly out of sight, even though Chris and Virginia coach Al Groh pleaded with him to visit practice. He only attended open practices and stopped going to road games because the television cameras kept finding him. Even at Scott Stadium he wore a baseball cap and wandered the concourse like a nervous nomad, never wanting to draw the spotlight from his son. By Saturday night he was on his plane for Los Angeles so he could be at the Fox studio in time for the Sunday-morning NFL pregame show.
But on Monday nights, when no cameras were rolling, Chris went home to watch game tape with his dad. Sometimes they would move the coffee table out of the way and line up across from each other in the family room, Howie showing Chris how to rip through a tackle's hands and charge at one side of his body.
"You always tell young guys to learn offensive formations, and they say, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah,'" says Mike London, Long's defensive coordinator at Virginia and now the head coach at Richmond. "Chris could read formations and know what blocks to expect from each one. That's what Howie instilled in him. That's the work they did at home."
THE LONG house is decorated with sporting goods. In the foyer is a glass bowl full of used baseballs. On the couch are chewed-up tennis balls. Kyle, a senior at St. Anne's--Belfield, walks around with a wooden baseball bat. Howie Jr., an 11th-grader, dumps a lacrosse helmet on the kitchen counter. It's hard to pick the best athlete in the family. At 6'7" and 285 pounds, Kyle was recruited by dozens of the best college football teams in the country. But he's also a lefthanded pitcher--first baseman with a 96-mph fastball and a .507 batting average. He has committed to play baseball at Florida State. Howie Jr. has committed to play lacrosse at Virginia. If all goes well, the Longs will have two first-round draft picks in the next three months—Chris in football, Kyle in baseball. "That would be pretty cool," Kyle says.
Howie's childhood could not have been more different than the one he has provided for his sons. He grew up in the gritty Charlestown section of Boston, forsaken by his parents when they divorced and raised by his uncles. By the time he was seven he was fighting in the streets. In high school he missed 45 consecutive days of class. Three years ago Howie took the boys to Charlestown, to show them the dark corners and back alleys of his youth. The message of the visit was obvious. "He wanted to give us everything he didn't have," Chris says.
While Howie Jr. is the wisecracker and Kyle the charmer, Chris is more like his amped-up dad. He is 6'4", 275, with blond curls and a square jaw. If he sits still for more than a few minutes, his legs start to shake in nervous anticipation. When he's happy and relaxed, Chris surfs opposing team's message boards, mining them for inflammatory posts that will rile him up again. "I can't be idle," he says. "I'm a restless soul."
Amid all the youthful energy in this house is 86-year-old Frank Addonizio, Diane's father, who has suffered from lymphoma for five years. He lives in a cottage on the Longs' 65-acre property, down a path from the main house. There he puts together a scrapbook for Chris, the way he once did for Howie. Every few days Chris stops by the cottage. Frank tells him about his poker games at the senior center. "I just want to see how these three kids end up," Frank says. "That's what keeps me going. That's the carrot I'm trying to catch."
At this time a year ago Frank had no idea that his eldest grandson would be a highly rated NFL prospect. Chris was second-team All-ACC playing in Virginia's 3--4 defense. He occupied a lot of blockers without making a ton of plays. But last summer ESPN's Todd McShay, the director of college football scouting for Scouts Inc., declared on the air that Long would be the best senior in the country. Colleagues asked McShay, "Are you serious?"