They were a team long before Nate Livings made the team.
They met in the LSU training room, were married on Valentine's Day, and after she smoked him and some of his teammates when he challenged her to the 110-yard dash, Dianne and Nate Livings have stayed in the fast lane with four children under the age of five. She went through Northern Kentucky University's Chase College of Law in three and a half years while he clawed off the practice squad to start 31 games at left guard.
But the potential NFL lockout hasn't brought them back to earth because they never left. She plans to work part time at a Union, Ky., law firm doing estate planning - work stoppage or not - before she takes the boards this summer. And she just figures her husband will be working if he's not playing.
"I always kid him when we're old he'll be the guy waking everybody up in the neighborhood mowing the lawn," Dianne Livings says. "He's up by at least 6 every day with always something to do."
The NFL and the NFL Players Association met in federal mediation again for nearly 10 hours Tuesday as they try to strike a deal before Friday's deadline for a new collective bargaining agreement. And while that is being noted duly in the Livings home with newspaper reports and frequent e-mail updates from their dear friends the Whitworths, it isn't changing much of anything for them.
"It's been that way ever since I walked in here on the practice squad," Livings says of the precarious world of a college free agent even after 31 starts. "That black car might be waiting outside to take me to the airport one day. That's the way I've always looked at it. And with four children, you're always trying to save money."
Welcome to the Dianne and Nate Show. It's not reality TV, just reality.
They have one house, a town home in Florence, Ky., and with a girl four years old, two-year-old twin girls, and a seven-month-old girl, the place is hopping. While Dianne went to law school full time, they put the girls in a preschool. She took only one semester off when she had the twins. Then when she had her youngest last year, her professors gave her permission to bring her daughter to class in a carrier.
"It could be a long day because when I had breaks in classes, I would stay there to study," Dianne Livings says. "I'd be home by 4 p.m. usually, but when I was home I wanted to make sure I was home. I'd do my studying there at the school. I didn't want to bring my law school stresses home. Nate usually gets home from the stadium around five (during the season) and he just doesn't sit around. He helps. He makes his presence known."
The Livings just got back from about a month-and-half stay at Nate's father's home in Lake Charles, La. There were a few things at play there. They didn't have to spend the money to stay in a hotel and, plus, Livings wanted his kids to get to know his family. It may not be as big as Dianne's (she's one of 12 children), but it's a big one. His parents separated when he was young, but he has stayed close with both and his father has children from another marriage.
"We're all close. We're all 100 percent brothers and sisters and I'm a big family guy," Nate Livings says. "We're away for most of the year, so it was a chance for my kids to get to know their grandparents and for my brothers and sisters to be around their nieces. We could have stayed in a hotel, but it was good to save the money and to be with family. That's our lifestyle. With four kids, you're looking to put money away for a rainy day, for emergencies. We budget pretty well."
If Dianne Livings sounds cool, reasoned and all together for a young woman with four toddlers, a law degree, and, perhaps, about to put the family on its own health insurance, she is.
As her husband says, "We've had the heads up on this for awhile." And, she's lived it all before. While her dad Dennis Harrison played defensive end for four teams in 10 NFL seasons (the first seven were with the Eagles and included a Pro Bowl), her mother was a nurse as their family grew in Nashville, Tenn., where her dad played college ball at Vanderbilt.
"I've wanted to be a lawyer ever since I was in middle school. I was always the mediator whenever my brothers and sisters would get into arguments; they still call me," says Dianne, so no wonder she is looking at practicing family law.
Her youngest sibling just signed to play next year for the University of Tennessee women's basketball team, a fairly common event in the Harrison family where scholarships, athletic and otherwise, have become a way of life.
"Around Nashville people just figure if you're tall and play sports, you must be a Harrison," says Dianne, the 6-2 former LSU heptathlete. "Yes, (my dad) used to tell me to stay away from football players, but my family loves Nate to death. My dad says since he's an offensive lineman, he must be sensitive."
But Nate was a defensive end until that day his freshman year LSU gave up six sacks. That Monday head coach Nick Saban informed him he was an offensive lineman and he's been there ever since. He ended up starting next to Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth on a national champion, but it was never easy. Livings played at a high school where going to college wasn't a priority, only having a 1.5 grade point average to stay eligible for the football team was.
"I graduated from high school in 2000, but I couldn't play football for a year and a half until I got my grades up," he says. "I kept working at it, kept studying for the ACTs, and I ended up going through in three and a half years. I relate it to what's happened here, coming off the practice squad."
He got his degree in history and now he's getting his master's in football, a game he'd like to make his life as a coach. His father is still commuting to his job as a supervisor for the Union Pacific railroad near Baton Rouge, La., but Nate can remember even when he was a kid in the days his dad was driving to the station in Beaumont, Texas, hearing him tell his children, 'Find a trade, find a trade.' "
"I've spent my life playing ball; I feel like this is my trade," Nate Livings says. "I spend so much time with film, books, the weight room. I don't know everything, but I continue to learn more. I love the game. I want to teach it when I'm done playing."
He's already doing it. For the last couple of years he's run a camp in Lake Charles for children (this year it is April 9) and this spring in Cincinnati he'll take over Brad St. Louis' camp. But his focus is playing. Even if there is a lockout.
"It will definitely have an effect on us and it's going to be up to the maturity of the guys to get together and do some things on our own and I think we've got the guys to do that. I can see us getting together on the field, but we don't even know if there is going to be a lockout yet," Livings says. "After being a starter for a few years, I kind of know what to expect, what works and what I need to work on and improve."
The fast lane keeps getting faster. The Bengals always seem to be looking for guards. There is a new offense, but there is also the buzz they're going back to the more physical play of two years ago, a game that fits Livings' mauling, strong style. Starting job or no, Livings is still thinking about the black car.
Plus, his oldest is approaching school age and "we don't want them to keep flipping schools," Nate Livings says. So they are making plans to move to the Atlanta area, three hours from Dianne's family and six hours from his. She'll take the Georgia boards in July with an eye to practicing right away and he'll keep working out and watching film and they'll both take care of the kids.
"We pray a lot," Nate Livings says. "We sit around and talk about our next moves. We want to be where God wants us to be. If we make moves without talking to God and if it's not where God wants you to be, I feel like you're in the wrong spot."
If the two sides get a deal, the offseason workouts start in about two weeks. The family lawyer says she's been reading that it is still coming down to money and that if it goes to court, it could favor the players. But no one wants to see it come to that, she knows from the sports law chapter.
"I want to go back to work," Nate Livings says on the set of reality. "We're all waiting to see what happens this weekend. We pray there is no lockout. If there is, I'm still good to go."