"He was bright, you could see that right away," she says, "but he'd never had any discipline. In Charlestown he'd just been passed along. The interesting thing was that he always spoke with perfect grammar, even though he had no formal knowledge of it. That was probably his grandmother's influence.
"He let things slide, though. He'd show up an hour late for our appointment; he hadn't done the work. One day I told him, 'I can't work with you.' He was shocked. Everyone had always made allowances. After that he was O.K."
Life at home, according to Long, was a series of groundings. Those were Uncle Billy's traditional punishments, usually for missing the 9 p.m. curfew.
To this day, Long perceives his uncle Billy as a man of stern and unbending principle, but that doesn't give the whole picture. There's a fine strain of humor in the man, and underlying all is compassion, always great compassion. In the Mullan family Uncle Billy's house was the refuge for wayward relatives.
"That grounding was about Matthew's 40th life sentence," he says, calling Howie by his middle name, "the sentences to run concurrently. You know there were times when he wouldn't talk to me for two or three days. But the end of it is, look how he turned out."
Villanova received Long with these words from head coach Dick Bedesem: "He's unquestionably the finest recruit that our coaching staff has signed since we've been here."
Long was a big fish in a little pond. The Wildcats had losing seasons his first three years. "No film room," he says, "no reporters in the locker room; Ivy League level without Ivy League wealth."
Diane Addonizio, a classical-studies major from Red Bank, N.J., met Howie Long in her freshman year when he was a sophomore. She recalls him as being moody and hard to know—"but attractive, boy was he attractive. I'd never met anyone that big who was that good-looking." The first real date they had was when Howie invited her to his room to watch an NFL game on TV.
"A little 12-inch, black-and-white TV that my grandmother gave me," he says. "A TV with lines on it and a coat hanger for an antenna. We watched a Dallas game. That's when they were still experimenting with Randy White at linebacker. On one play he got a running start and wham, he knocked the ballcarrier's helmet off. I started cheering. 'Wow, did you see that!' Diane must have thought I was nuts."
"Howie wasn't one of these guys who's too cool to have idols," says Diane, who married Long in June 1982. "He had pictures of Matt Millen and Bruce Clark from Penn State on his wall, and Mike Webster and Jack Lambert of the Steelers, and Joe Klecko from this area. Once he took me to a powerlifting competition at Villanova, and after we sat down he nudged me and said, 'Don't look around, but Joe Klecko just showed up.' He was absolutely in awe."