Terry Long was one of the stonewalls on the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line in the latter years of the historic Chuck Noll era.
Long was a powerful offensive lineman who, along with the likes of Mike Webster and Tunch Ilkin, helped protect quarterback Bubby Brister and open up running holes for halfback Merril Hoge in the late 1980s.
Long relied on his brute strength on the gridiron. Some pundits even considered Long, who once lifted a combined 2,203 pounds during a powerlifting competition in college, one of the strongest players in pro football history.
Although Long became a successful businessman and entrepreneur after he retired from the NFL in 1991, he dealt with several legal issues leading up to his untimely death in the summer of 2005.
This is Terry Long’s tragic story.
Terrence Luther “Terry” Long was born to parents Robert and Levane in Columbia, SC on July 21, 1959.
As a child, Terry was baptized at Ridgewood Baptist Church in his hometown. He was a compassionate youngster who picked up and nurtured injured animals he saw lying on the pavement, per the Pittsburgh-Tribune Review (via Legacy.com).
Long continued his compassionate ways well into adulthood and his retirement years. He always went out of his way to help the less fortunate.
Terry Long learned the value of hard work at an early age. He worked as a brick mason under the guidance of a man known as “Mr. McDonald.” People lauded him for his exemplary work ethic, which he would put to good use on the football field later in life.
Terry wasn’t only hard-working—he was also generous. Although he earned a meager salary from his bricklaying job, he gave it to his mother, Levane.
Terry’s dad, Robert Long, passed away when Terry was 15 years old, per Sports Illustrated’s Jaime Diaz.
— PGH Sports History (@PGH_Sports_Date) September 13, 2021
Long attended Eau Claire High School in Columbia, SC. He found employment as a janitor and kept his nose to the grindstone during his first three years of high school.
It wasn’t until Long’s senior year that he played organized football for the first time. He spent some time playing nose guard for the Eau Claire Shamrocks that year.
Long told Diaz that he weighed 160 pounds as a senior. He began hitting the weights during his high school days and could bench press 135 pounds around the time he earned his high school diploma in 1977.
Terry Long continued working hard on his gridiron journey. He eventually realized that he had a future on the football field as he entered the collegiate ranks in the late 1970s.
College Days With the East Carolina Pirates
After Terry Long graduated from Eau Claire High School in 1977, he joined the military as a paratrooper and spent two years in the 82nd Airborne Division’s Special Forces Unit of the Air Force in Fort Bragg, NC.
Long continued making progress in the weight room in college. He lifted for three hours daily while he was in the armed forces.
By Long’s estimate, he did 60 parachute jumps during his time at Fort Bragg. He told Diaz he always hit the ground first despite jumping out of the plane 14th in line.
At this point in Terry Long’s young life, he realized he had the potential to excel on the football field. His coaches agreed and thought he was a star in the making.
“I hated the military but loved playing football,” Long said (via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Legacy.com).
Long punched his ticket out of Fort Bragg, NC when college scouts recruited him to play for Columbia Junior College. He majored in business administration at his new school.
Before long, the East Carolina Pirates dangled a four-year football scholarship that was too good to pass up. Terry accepted the offer and became a pillar of strength on the Pirates’ offensive line from 1980 to 1983.
Terry Long was one of the strongest college offensive linemen in the early 1980s. According to Diaz, Long lifted a combined 2,203 pounds at the North Carolina Powerlifting Championships in March 1983. Long emerged victorious and recorded the third-highest lifting total in competition history.
The fact that it was Long’s first powerlifting meet made the feat even more impressive. He bench pressed 501 pounds, squatted 837 pounds, and deadlifted 865 pounds.
“When I don’t lift, I feel weak mentally. I get irritable,” Long told Sports Illustrated in the fall of 1983. “Coming out of the weight room is like coming out of church.”
Long also showed that he could turn on the afterburners with a speed of 4.8 seconds in the 40-yard dash. The 280-lb. Long’s 34-inch vertical leap manifested itself on the basketball court where he could dunk.
Long, who teammates occasionally referred to as “Mr. T,” told Diaz he wanted to represent the United States in weightlifting in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea if a pro football career didn’t materialize.
Today would have been former #Steelers OG Terry Long's 62nd birthday. We lost him in '05 after legal issues & CTE led to his suicide. The @ECUPiratesFB alum was a 4th rd. pick in '84 & he started 89 games through his final year in '91. Rest in peace Terry. pic.twitter.com/1fpugbcOIq
— SBlueman (@SBluemanTecmo) July 21, 2021
Long, a paratrooper during his days with the military, asked Pirates head football coach Ed Emory if he could parachute onto the Ficklen Stadium football field for East Carolina’s home opener in the 1983 NCAA season. Emory turned down Long’s request.
Terry Long earned several accolades as his college football career wound down. He won the Walter Camp Football Foundation All-American Award and the Janet Overton Memorial Award following his senior year in 1983, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Long also earned Consensus All-American honors that year.
Despite Long’s emergence as an offensive lineman, the Pirates were an average football team during his four-year tenure in Greenville, NC. They averaged six wins per season and extended their bowl drought to five years during that time frame.
Nevertheless, Terry Long eventually became one of the stalwarts of the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line.
Pro Football Career
The Pittsburgh Steelers made Terry Long the 111th overall selection of the 1984 NFL Draft.
Long fortified a staunch Steelers lineup that included Mike Webster, Tunch Ilkin, Edmund Nelson, Delton Hall, Bubby Brister, Dwayne Woodruff, Dermontti Dawson, and Greg Lloyd. He formed a strong and unique camaraderie with them as the years went by.
Long started seven games as a rookie and helped the Steelers win nine games despite a shaky quarterback situation featuring David Woodley and Mark Malone.
Despite winning the AFC Central division, Pittsburgh lost to Dan Marino’s Miami Dolphins in the AFC Championship Game, 45-28.
Terry Long’s strong play at right guard prompted legendary Steelers head coach Chuck Noll to start him in 14 of their 15 games in 1985. Long became firmly entrenched at that position—he started 89 of the 105 games in which he wore Steelers black and gold from 1984 to 1991.
The Steelers became an average team after they reached the AFC Championship Game in 1984. Pittsburgh averaged seven wins per year from 1985 to 1991 and made the postseason just once during that seven-year time frame.
According to the Pittsburgh-Tribune Review, Long endeared himself to people on and off the field because of his friendly nature. He had a powerful charm that helped him forge strong, lifelong bonds with various people.
Unfortunately, Terry Long’s eight-year career in the National Football League ended on a sour note. The league confirmed that he tested positive for steroids in the summer of 1991. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue suspended Long for the first four games of the 1991 NFL season.
Terry Long One of the Shortest and Strongest offensive lineman to every play in the NFL. pic.twitter.com/1wWS0VfMoA
— GapDownLB (@GapDownLB) April 15, 2022
Long didn’t take the suspension lightly. He tried to commit suicide by consuming rat poison, per TribLive.com.
It was an eerie premonition of things to come in Terry Long’s life after football.
Fortunately, Terry Long survived his suicide attempt and went on to suit up in eight games for the Steelers in 1991.
Long retired following the 1991 NFL campaign. His retirement coincided with Noll’s, who coached the Steelers from 1969 to 1991 and guided them to four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s.
Noll sang Long’s praises for his work ethic. The former recalled that Long hit the weights hard in the gym so he could build more muscle mass and hold his own in the offensive line during his eight-year tenure in the Steel City.
“Terry was a guy who wanted it very badly, no question about it,” Noll told TribLive in the summer of 2005.
Long had many sides to his on-field persona. His teammates remembered him as a man who devoutly practiced his faith.
Pittsburgh offensive lineman Tunch Ilkin also recalled Long’s funny side during a game against the Arizona Cardinals.
“It was 120 degrees, and he was saying in a funny voice, ‘ I can’t do it. I can’t do it,'” Ilkin told TribLive.com’s Chris Osher in June 2005. “He would do these funny imitations, and you’d just start laughing.”
On the other hand, Steelers guard Craig Wolfley told Osher that Long was a strong and tough individual who had an innocent and soft side as well.
Post-Football Life and Death
Terry Long became a businessman and entrepreneur when he retired from the National Football League following the 1991 NFL season.
Long ran his company, TL’s Sports Nuts, Inc., for three years. Completing and distributing customer orders in the southwestern Pennsylvania region hours before dawn was something that Long frequently did during that time.
Terry Long launched his second company, TL’s Inc., in 1998. His produce production and processing company provided ready-made salads for Giant Eagle, a local grocery store and pharmacy chain.
Long then launched Value Added Foods, Inc. in 2001. His latest business venture expanded its product line to packaged poultry and potatoes.
Not only was Terry Long an accomplished businessman in retirement, but he was also an asset to the western Pennsylvania community. Long was a Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Inc. board member.
He also served as a youth outreach ministry assistant, usher, and senior choir member at Triumph Baptist Church. Long was also an usher at Christ Church, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Terry Long also served as a mentor to young men during his retirement years.
Sadly, Terry Long passed away on June 7, 2005. He was 45 years old.
Former Steeler Terry Long committed suicide by drinking antifreeze.
Unbelievable what CTE will make you do to stop the pain.
— Lion SZN ✭ 🇺🇸 🇲🇽 (@FrankieJay__) February 23, 2022
According to a revised death certificate from the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office that TribLive.com’s Tony Larussa obtained in January 2006, Long’s cause of death was ruled a suicide. He drank antifreeze at his Franklin Park residence on the day he died.
Allegheny County coroner Dr. Cyril H. Wecht had concluded that Long died due to cerebral meningitis stemming from “repeated mild traumatic brain injuries while playing football” four months earlier.
Neuropathologist Bennet Omalu concluded that Long had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative ailment linked to repetitive head trauma.
Omalu maintained that Long’s head injuries drove him to depression and ultimately, suicide.
“The major depressive disorder may manifest as suicide attempts,” Omalu told Larussa. “Terry Long committed suicide due to chronic traumatic encephalopathy due to his long-term play.”
The medical examiner’s office’s chief of operations Joseph Dominick told TribLive.com that the antifreeze Long drank made his brain and its lining swell up. Dominick felt that Long’s football-related brain damage played a part in his death.
Long went through several legal issues in the months before he took his own life. Federal authorities arrested him on charges of mail fraud and malicious destruction of property by fire on March 30, 2005, per TribLive.com.
Long allegedly set his Value Added Foods, Inc. plant ablaze in the fall of 2003 so he could receive $1.19 million in insurance money and $1.17 million in state loans and subsidies. Police released him on $10,000 bail.
According to the indictment, Long applied for business loans from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development using forged and fraudulent documentation.
He subsequently obtained business loans amounting to $674,319 and $500,000 through fraudulent means in 2003.
Long also faced accusations of submitting false bid documents to the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and Amoore Health Systems, a human resources company, so he could obtain a $75,000 grant for the purchase of food processing equipment in January 2003.
To make matters worse for Long, thieves broke into his Pittsburgh mansion a month later. The perpetrators stole valuables estimated at $20,000, per TribLive.com’s Richard Reilly.
The burglars later sold the stolen goods to an antique shop. Authorities eventually recovered most of the items.
Long told Reilly that he purchased the mansion because he wanted to assist a family who had been living there. The eight individuals faced eviction so Long intervened and bought the house.
Long also came under scrutiny for failing to provide work he promised to several Cuban immigrants at his poultry plant in Pittsburgh, PA in the spring of 2004. The stranded workers eventually returned to their home state of Florida.
Long applied for federal bankruptcy protection due to incurred debts of $1 million a few days before he passed away in June 2005.
Steelers team doctor and neurosurgeon Dr. Joseph Maroon didn’t believe that Long’s repeated head trauma during his 14-year career in the college and professional ranks was what drove him to consume antifreeze and end his life.
“I’ve been dealing with the prevention of head injuries to athletes in the past 20 years,” Maroon told Larussa in January 2006. “I have never seen head injuries turn someone into an arsonist or someone who would defraud the government or get charged with felonies for writing bad checks.”
Long told his neighbor, Susan Donaldson, that he had consumed antifreeze in yet another suicide attempt (his second) because he wanted to get some rest. She told Osher that the former Steelers guard sought therapy at the Western Psychiatric Institute shortly afterward.
According to Donaldson, Long poured out his heart to her when he visited her two weeks before his death. He also revealed that doctors had removed his thyroid through surgical means.
Long also became more reclusive during his retirement years. Legendary Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Chuck Noll told Osher in the summer of 2005 that he was a frequent no-show at golf outings featuring Steelers alumni.
Some of Long’s former Steelers teammates used to visit him at the house he lived in during his playing days in the National Football League. Those visits diminished in frequency and eventually ended over time.
Donaldson told Osher that Long loved talking to her about his performance on the field during his time with the Steelers. However, when she called him to talk about Steelers’ games when he retired, he quickly changed the topic.
Long’s other neighbor, Janet Dentici, was surprised at his frail appearance when she saw him several days before his tragic death. It was one of the few times that Dentici saw the reclusive Long in his final years.
Terry Long left behind his wife, Lynne Medley-Long.