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Chapter 3: Two relationships

Murphy met Heather Duggan through mutual friends in 1996, at a summer carnival on Long Island. Duggan, who grew up in Mount Sinai, graduated from high school that year. She told Murphy, then a college sophomore, that she planned to attend Penn State in the fall.

"I'm already at Penn State," said Murphy.

For the next several hours, he challenged her to go on the carnival rides her girlfriends rejected as too scary.

"To be honest, he rode my nerves the entire night," said Duggan "But he brought that competitive spirit out of me, so I was right there with him. I wouldn't back down."

Soon, they were inseparable friends, but nothing romantic. He called her the first day she arrived on campus, finding her number before she even had a chance to give it to him. He attended her gymnastic meets. She took him dancing in the popular bars along College Avenue. She shared details of her spats with boyfriends, with Murphy often taking the side of her beaus. One night, with her on the back of his motorcycle, he zoomed along a Patchogue main drag at more than 100 miles per hour. She never got on again.

Duggan said that Murphy enjoyed teasing her. A favorite joke was to pull up in front of her house and offer her a ride in his car. When she reached for the door handle, Murphy pulled away, stopping a few feet down the street.

"Sometimes this would go on for half a block," she said. "He loved pushing my buttons."

But Murphy was also fiercely protective of her, more of a big brother than a potential suitor. Proof was the small scar near one eye from a time when they were dancing together at a Port Jefferson bar during a holiday break from college. A man approached Duggan, dancing closely and suggestively. Murphy asked the man to stop and when he didn't, pushed him away. Duggan recalled that several of the man's friends jumped in and rained blows on Murphy, but never managed to knock him down.

"My mom suggested while she was cleaning off the blood that he needed stitches," Duggan said. "He laughed and said he hadn't lost enough blood to need stitches."

At home during college breaks, Murphy and his father continued their habit of hanging out together. Years earlier, the father had coached the son through youth soccer and pee-wee football. Young Michael would vault into his father's car to ride shotgun on trips to the supermarket or hardware store.

As he grew up, Michael returned the affection. As a college student, he extended his weekend visits home as long as possible. It was 295 miles from the Murphy home in Patchogue to Penn State - a five-hour drive when father and son could talk to one another without interruption.

Their habit was to climb into Daniel Murphy's green Buick an hour or two before midnight on a Sunday, point the car west toward Interstate 80 and drive to State College, Pa. After dropping off his son, Daniel Murphy turned around and drove toward the rising sun, arriving back in time to be at work Monday morning.

It was on one of those trips, in the darkness along the interstate, that Michael told his father he wanted to be a Navy SEAL. It wasn't something Daniel Murphy wanted to hear.

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