Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:21 pm
Recovering from stroke gave former Packer new appreciation of life
Bob Long’s life is pretty idyllic these days. He hangs around the house in his pajamas in the morning when he wants to. He got a chance to watch his kids play high school sports. In other words, he’s taking time to smell the proverbial roses.
But it was just over 10 years ago that the former wide receiver for Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers and founder of RAL Asset Management was felled by a stroke. At the time, Long was 50 years old, in great shape, had never smoked and didn’t drink.
It was a blind-side hit that laid him up for almost all of 1991. He spent two-and-a-half months in Elmbrook Memorial Hospital in Brookfield and almost 10 months in therapy at Sacred Heart Hospital in Milwaukee.
To this day, Long and his doctors aren’t sure what caused his stroke. Some suggested stress may have been a factor, but Long discounts that theory.
“I’ve had a pretty high threshold for stress ever since I played for Vince Lombardi,” Long said. “You’ve got to have a high threshold for stress to play for him because … you couldn’t make too many mistakes.”
Whatever the reason for the stroke, Long decided to close down RAL Asset Management, a company that bought investment real estate properties for 100% cash. “We were into it for the income, not the big tax breaks like other people were,” Long said. The concept worked, too, especially in light of the savings & loan debacle of the 1980s, which lead to many tax-sheltered real estate partnerships declaring bankruptcy.
The Lombardi creed
Even after suffering from such a debilitating illness, Long counts his blessings.
“I had no paralysis,” he said. “I came out of this thing pretty good. I have no complaints at all. I’m just grateful I survived, period, so I could spend more time with my wife and kids.”
As Long went through his therapy sessions — many of which were dedicated to learning to walk again — lessons that he had learned from his years with Lombardi continued to have an impact on him.
For one thing, pain was always in a player’s mind. “We were never hurt,” Long said of his playing days. As his doctors continued to look for reasons for the stroke by taking X-rays and MRIs, one of the doctors came in and asked Long when he broke his wrist. Long didn’t know.
“Apparently I had broken my wrist when I played for the Packers and I played through it,” he said.
It was the same when his doctor discovered he had broken his collarbone. Long couldn’t recall when it had happened, and when the doctor told him it looked about 30 years old, Long, who played for the Pack from 1964-1967, told him, “That sounds about right.”
Lombardi always insisted that his teams never lost a game, either.
“Even if we lost a game, he’d come in after the game and say, ‘We didn’t lose. Time ran out,'” Long recalled. “In other words, if we had gone into overtime, we would have won the game. So when I went through this I kept thinking, ‘I’m going to get better. No matter what, I’m going to get better.’ The only thing that would defeat me is if time ran out.”
These days, Long works with charity groups and serves as the president of the National Football League Players Association Retirees for Wisconsin, handling pension and health-care questions from fellow retirees, among other things.
He’s also working as a consultant for his family’s business — RAL Long’s Management — which is coming out with a new offering in 2002 called RAL Brick and Mortar. The venture will follow Long’s philosophy of buying properties debt-free.
His advice to anyone who is recovering from a stroke: “No matter what happens, never, never give up.”
Dec. 21, 2001 Small Business Times, Milwaukee