On Saturday, the Miami Dolphins signed former University of Michigan left tackle Jake Long as the NFL's No. 1 draft pick. Long signed a $57.5 million contract with a guaranteed $30 million over five years. He now becomes the highest-paid lineman in the NFL and a 6-foot-7, 315-pound cornerstone in a rebuilding project for the new Dolphins regime led by Bill Parcells.
One would think Long would just credit hard work, the Michigan football program and former coach Lloyd Carr for getting him to the stage in New York City's Radio City Music Hall and drafted No. 1 in the NFL's 2008 draft. But Long and Carr had another important group to thank for enabling Long to achieve his new status -- the EMS personnel who insisted on administering care to Long and transporting him as a high-priority smoke inhalation patient in 2004. Those actions ultimately saved Long's life, and allowed him to return to Michigan football and achieve his dream of playing in the NFL.
Long was trapped in a late-night fire that destroyed the house near the University of Michigan campus he lived in with 10 other Michigan football players. He jumped to safety at the last minute as flames nearly consumed his body.
"I woke up from the fire alarm and the smoke was up in my room," Long says in an April 18 USA Today story by Jim Corbett. "I tried going out my bedroom door, down the staircase. But the fire was right outside."
So he dove out his window onto a cot propped atop a buddy's Bronco.
Looking at the massive football player today, you don't see any sign of the surreal ordeal Long went through four years ago, an ordeal that placed him in intensive care fighting for his life. Long fought through the early morning fire that gutted the house and jumped out a second-floor window only to face greater peril.
"When [EMS] sucked all that smoke residue out of his lungs, I realized if the EMTs hadn't insisted on taking him to the hospital, Jake might have died," says former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr. "He fought the biggest battle of his young life."
"I was in shock and didn't want to go to the hospital," Long says. "I told everybody I was fine. But I couldn't breathe very well. I was coughing and puking." Despite his superb conditioning, the EMS crew felt he had inhaled a significant amount of smoke and feared his condition would only worsen over time. So they pushed Long (and encouraged Coach Carr) to rapidly get Long to the hospital.
"I got over there about 3 o'clock in the morning and we watched that house almost burn to the ground," Carr says. "Jake was on a gurney. His biggest complaint was, 'Coach, I don't want to go to the hospital.' There was an ambulance waiting and the attendant said, 'Coach, we need to take him to make sure he's OK.'"
So Carr encouraged Long to listen to the EMS crew, and Long agreed and probably survived as a result.
"I went home, back to bed. I got a call the next morning. They said, 'Jake is literally fighting for his life,'" says Carr.
Long says, "The doctors told me they had to knock me out to put an [endotracheal] tube down my throat. When I woke up they told me I had been out three days while they sucked the soot and black phlegm out."
Jake's dad, John, says, "When I got to the hospital, Jake was in bad shape, his whole body filled with black tar. They had him on a respirator. Talk about a chilling wakeup call."
As a result of the aggressive EMS and hospital care, Long was back practicing in three weeks. Long says, "I told coach Carr, 'This won't slow me down. Football almost got taken away from me. It showed how you're one play, one incident away from losing everything.'"