When Howie Long visited the practice sessions of Notre Dame and Louisiana State, the two teams that will play in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, he learned that the schools already had met, but it wasn't on the football field.
Students from Notre Dame were among the first relief volunteers to arrive in the Gulf Coast region after it was hit by Hurricane Katrina. And in Baton Rouge, much of the LSU campus was turned into an emergency triage center.
"This is just one of the side stories to this game," said Long, who will be an analyst with Terry Bradshaw on Wednesday night on Fox's broadcast from the Superdome. "The people are still suffering."
Long, speaking by telephone from his home in Charlottesville, Va., saw the hurricane's devastating aftermath when he went to the Gulfport area of Mississippi "down near where Brett Favre is from. The land, from the railroad tracks to the water, looks like the hand of God wiped it off."
Two other sidelights to the game are Bradshaw's return to his home state, where he grew up in Shreveport and played college football, and the Sugar Bowl's return to the repaired Superdome. Last January's game was moved to Atlanta because of the damage the stadium sustained in the storm.
Long believes the game's coming back to New Orleans is another positive step for the city's recovery, and it will add to the feelings of hope the Saints have given residents and football fans everywhere.
"If the Dallas Cowboys are America's team, the Saints are the adopted brother," he said.
Working a big-time college game is a significant departure from Long's regular job on Fox's NFL pregame show, where he and Bradshaw have critiqued mainly NFC games on Sundays since 1994. The network's acquisition of four of the five Bowl Championship Series contests, including the national championship game between Ohio State and Florida, opened the door for the two sidekicks, both college football fanatics, to become involved with the coverage.
Long has made two trips each to South Bend, Ind., and Baton Rouge, and will make one more to both team's practices before the game. The travel, coupled with his Sunday duties on the NFL on Fox set, has been a challenge.
"On the one hand, you're dealing with two coaches, two teams, two story lines. In the studio, you virtually have to prepare for all the games of the day, and that includes watching a lot of tape ahead of time," Long said.
"I've been scrambling," he added, but said he is looking forward to the atmosphere of covering a BCS bowl.
"Terry and I come from schools" -- Louisiana Tech and Villanova, respectively -- "that drew 4,000 to 5,000 a game."
Long said that Bradshaw has their hotel room in Los Angeles wired for three television sets and when they check in on Saturdays during the season, they watch as many college games as time will allow.
"It's like our own studio. We'll be yelling 'Go back to Florida, back to Auburn, switch to Ohio State.' "
The Raiders Hall of Fame defensive end also has a family attachment to the college game. His oldest son, Chris, is a junior lineman at Virginia. He received second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors this season.
Another son, Kyle, is a high school junior, and at 6 feet 7 inches and 270 pounds, is being recruited by "most of the BCS schools."
Long added that he enjoys studio work and still has five years remaining on his contract but would "consider [working] college games in the future if there wasn't a conflict."
The Sugar Bowl will air Wednesday on Fox at 5:30 p.m.
Former Channel 9 sportscaster Derrin Horton will be the announcer for today's Insight Bowl between Minnesota and Texas Tech, starting at 4:30 p.m. from Tempe, Ariz., on the NFL Network. Dick Vermeil will serve as analyst and Alex Flanagan sideline reporter.
As part of its "flexible" schedule, the NFL has moved Sunday's game between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears from day to night and NBC will televise it at 5:15 p.m.
* WEEKEND HIGHLIGHTS, D10