Final days troubled for former Steeler Terry Long

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Last Sunday, after services, Terry Long approached his minister and asked if he could address his fellow Christ Church at Grove Farm congregants the following Sabbath -- to tell them about upcoming media reports concerning him.

Instead, visitors this Sunday will be received at a different Sewickley house of worship, the Triumph Baptist Church, to celebrate the death of the former Steelers strongman guard.

The enigma that was Long, once the smallest offensive lineman in the NFL but among its most powerful, remains something of a mystery in death. Long, 45, of Sewickley, was whisked from his home Tuesday morning for an unspecified health problem and died hours later at UPMC Passavant Hospital. The Allegheny County coroner's office ruled after an autopsy Wednesday that the cause and manner of death remain under investigation pending the results of toxicology tests, which might not be finished for weeks, even months.

"He was such a nice man who just made some bad decisions and got under a mountain I don't think he could get out of," said Susan Donaldson, Long's neighbor for 18 years. "I talked to him on Saturday, and he sounded kind of despondent. He'd been that way for a while. I think he was afraid of what's coming."

Long, a guard for the Steelers for eight seasons (1984-91), attempted suicide in July 1991, the day after being informed by coach Chuck Noll that he tested positive for steroids, by first brandishing a gun, then trying to overdose on sleeping pills and rat poison.

Long was indicted March 29 on federal charges of arson and mail fraud stemming from a fire that damaged his North Side chicken-processing business, the same day he filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy for Terry Long Enterprises.

He soon after attempted suicide again by drinking antifreeze because, he told Donaldson, "I just needed a rest."

The charges that he set fire to his Value Added Foods plant in 2003 for $1.1 million in insurance money and also defrauded the state of nearly $1.2 million in business loans weighed heavy on Long.

"The thing is, he worked so hard when he had his businesses and was doing so well. He'd get up and leave by 5:30 or 6 in the morning and work all day," Donaldson said. But, in the wake of the recent charges, she added, "He had said he was not going to jail. He looked emphatically in my eyes and said that.

"I think he was out of money and just needed to figure out where he was going next. His truck is still parked in front of the driveway I can hardly look out the window."

Long distanced himself from his Steelers friends over the years.

"Never saw him at Steelers alumni gatherings," said Joe Gordon, the team's former business manager and public-relations director. "He pretty much distanced himself from football."

"That really killed him, to lose that," added Donaldson. "I think he just didn't reach out too much. He was just a very private person."

Long, an usher at Christ Church described by the Rev. John Guest as "a very dear man and a man of honor," approached the minister after last Sunday's services to ask if he could address the congregation. "He really wanted to talk about some stuff he thought would be hitting the media, and he wanted to talk to his church family about it. But he never got to make that talk."

Visitors will be received between 6-9 p.m. Sunday at Triumph Baptist Church, 201 Frederick Ave., Sewickley, the church of latest ex-wife, Lynn Medley-Long. A funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Monday at the church. Burial will follow later in Long's hometown of Columbia, S.C. Arrangements are being handled by the Sheffield Funeral Home on the North Side.


Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1724. Click here for more National Football League news.


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