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A little help from his friends

When you hear the term ''football family'' to describe Northwestern, believe it.

Marty Long certainly does.

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

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

Assistant coach Jerry Brown and Long have the same doctor, and Long agreed to have a checkup at Fitzgerald's insistence. Brown made the appointment, Long went to the doctor after that staff meeting and the news about what was wrong hit him like an electric shock.

He had a tumor on his pituitary gland.

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

Long was lucky because he went to the doctor in time. His doctor sent him to Evanston Hospital for emergency surgery Dec. 11 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. 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 veteran on the defensive line. When Long got sick, Bryant and his teammates were worried but knew Long would be tough enough to pull through. Bryant said Long's condition made him and his linemates work harder in preparation for the Outback Bowl.

''We were definitely worried about him,'' Bryant said. ''But we knew in practice that we had to carry on and that we were doing it for him. 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. Long just seemed like himself, getting after his ''kids'' and yelling at them during practice.

Fitzgerald requested that the players not go to the hospital to see Long, preferring them 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 has 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 and graduate assistant Matt Clark took over coaching the defensive line.

There was uncertainty at first about whether 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.