Off beaten track, Long tries to find way back

March 31, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

No amount of scrubbing will erase the stain from Terry Long's past.

The four-game suspension for a positive steroid test in 1991, when he was an offensive guard with the Pittsburgh Steelers, is immutable. The report that Long swallowed rat poison in a failed suicide attempt in the grim aftermath is indelible.

History, Long said yesterday, does not always get it right, though.

That is why he has sued the NFL and the Steelers. And it is why he is trying to revive his career with the Baltimore CFL Colts two years after he seemingly was locked out of the NFL. By playing with Baltimore's expansion team in the Canadian Football League, he hopes to create some revisionist history.

"I look at the whole situation as being an opportunity to come back and clear my name from the negative stuff that surrounded me when I left," said Long, whose signing was announced yesterday by the Colts. "I wasn't given the opportunity to come back and play after that."

Long disappeared from the football landscape after the 1991 season. The Steelers did not want him back after his contract expired. Nor did anyone else in the league.

"I tried to get back in two or three times after that was over," he said. "Teams told my agent, 'We couldn't touch you, but we can't say why.' "

Long says he did not use steroids, that his suspension was unjustified. "They suspended me on the presumption a person is taking steroids when he has a high level of testosterone," he said.

The NFL administered a second steroids test after the first showed a high testosterone level. When it showed a much lower level of testosterone, the league deemed that proof that Long had attempted to use a performance-enhancing drug in the summer before training camp.

Last November, Long's attorney filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh alleging that steroid use is endorsed by NFL teams and is rampant among players, but is arbitrarily policed by the league.

An eight-year veteran with the Steelers, Long said he was devastated by the suspension. What happened next is open to interpretation. He said, however, that he does not believe he attempted suicide.

"My girlfriend at the time overreacted," he said. "I got intoxicated. Very intoxicated, in fact. I did some things in the time I was intoxicated, [and] she presumed I was trying to take my life. . . . She saw a bag of rat poison, [and said] I had taken it. She never saw me take it. I know I didn't take it. They didn't find any in my stomach in the examination at the hospital.

"But once you start a story, it blossoms like a flower, and I couldn't put the flame out."

The aftermath was especially difficult for Long, a self-described loner who joined the Army before getting a football scholarship at East Carolina.

"I'd come home from work, shut myself up in the house, sit here and cry," he said. "I'd say, 'This is a dream, somebody wake me up. This is not happening.' "

Long decided to stay in Pittsburgh rather than flee. "My initial mode was to get away from it," he said. "But I thought, 'You're running from something you can't hide from.' I decided to fight it here."

After failing to find any interest in the NFL, Long signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the CFL a year ago. But a knee injury knocked him out of the picture before he got to camp. This summer, at age 34, he will make another comeback bid in Baltimore.

"Terry is still young for an offensive lineman," said Jim Popp, the Colts' director of player personnel. "I think he can still do it, step in, be a starter and possibly a first-team All-CFL player."

Long, 5 feet 11 and 280 pounds, is grateful for the opportunity.

"I'll be 35 in July," he said. "The love of the game is always there. I wanted the opportunity to come back and show people it wasn't true, that I played without taking the drug. If I come in and do the things I can do, I expect to be a starter. If I don't, the Lord has given me a second chance, and I'll go on from there."

NOTES: The Colts also signed guard Jerry Sharp of Syracuse, nose guard Rick Dolly of West Virginia, cornerback Carlton Buckles of LSU and running back Kelly Yancy of Morningside College. . . . The club announced its first cut: fullback Tim Lavin of Southern Cal, who was unimpressive in a post-signing workout on the West Coast.

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