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Michael Hiestand, USA TODAY Sports

While Fox sent Sunday's St. Louis Rams win against the Tampa Bay Bucs to just 4% of the USA, studio analyst Howie Long didn't miss a play. "I actually watch every snap and have the Rams game on my monitor during halftimes," Long told USA TODAY Sports on Sunday. "We're not doing rocket science, obviously. I mean, Terry (Bradshaw) and I are doing it. So I'm watching every play, as every dad would be."

Every dad, that is, with a kid in the game.

On-air, Long rarely mentions his son Chris, a defensive lineman for the Rams who was the second pick in the 2008 NFL draft after playing at Virginia. Long doesn't like talking about his son's play publicly to the point where viewers might forget he has a son playing in the NFL. Long makes only occasional vague references, such as during a game pick 'em segment Sunday when he predicted a Rams win because, well, it's "Christmas, blood, family."

Long, who helped coach Chris' high school teams in Charlottesville, Va., explains why he doesn't like to talk about Chris: "I've always purposely stayed away from that. My concern is that it would all become about me. And if you can even find me at my son's games, you're pretty good."

One time, he said, ESPN showed him onscreen at a Virginia-Georgia Tech game and his son Kyle called to tell him he needed to move to a more secluded spot.

"I'm a nervous dad," says Long. "I'm far more nervous watching my kids play than when I played myself."

And probably likely to become a more nervous NFL analyst given that Kyle, an offensive lineman at Oregon, might join the NFL next year. (A third son, Howie, attends Virginia but doesn't play football.)

Long says Kyle, like Chris, won't have to worry about his old man's mouth on TV: "I'm very mindful of what I say. ... It's not my style to try to grab a headline anyway. I'm mindful I don't want to enhance the chances of my son becoming a target."

Long made $35,000 in his first year in the NFL after being drafted in the second round in 1981. Chris signed a six-year $56.5 million rookie deal -- with $29 million guaranteed. But Long suggests money doesn't change things -- "I never thought about money when I was playing" -- and bigger salaries today are "just relative to what NFL teams make."

What has changed about the game is his take on it. "My perspective, at 52, is a lot different. When I played, I thought I was one of the 10 baddest guys in the world and should change for work in a phone booth. You need to think that way."

Now, of course he doesn't -- even though he has clearly answered the question about whether he would let his sons play football.

"We didn't push it with Chris given football is such a demanding, grinding game," says Long, whose playing days led to 12 surgeries. "The most important thing for parents is that, whoever is coaching your son or daughter, the game is taught the right way. ... And in football, it's about defending yourself."

When it's your son, he says, any stats on today's football injuries are sort of beside the point. "I text Chris before his games, 'See what you hit, keep your head up.' ''

Then, as he chats it up in Fox's studio, there's not much else he can do. "The rest of it you just pray for. There's a blind leap of faith you have to go through as a parent with a kid playing football."

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