Before Howie Long became Terry Bradshaw’s straight man on the Fox NFL Sunday pre-game show, he was one of the best defensive ends in the business.
In fact, the 6-5, 265-pound Long made the Pro Bowl in 1993, his final year with the Los Angeles Raiders, and seemed to have plenty left in the tank before deciding to end his brilliant 13-year career and go into television.
“It’s time to get on with life,” Long said in announcing his retirement. “It’s time to grow up. I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve been very lucky. God has blessed me. I’ve made more money than I ever dreamt of making.
“Having won a world championship, having done just about everything there is to do in sports from a defensive lineman’s standpoint, having a great time and finishing up at this point in my career in the Pro Bowl at 34, that is, in my mind, the way I think you should leave sports.
“I’ve seen too many players who I have a great deal of respect and admiration for, (people) I looked up to growing up and watched on film, and then I watched them deteriorate physically, but try to hang on too long. That was always disappointing and hard to watch.
“I would much rather people say, ‘The guy went out as a Pro Bowl player. He could have played two or three more years.’”
Managing General Partner Al Davis unsuccessfully tried to change Long’s mind, which was made up.
Long was hardly a high-rated player coming out of Villanova, which is known much more for basketball than football, but he was a four-year starter who started out at a tight end before being switched to the defensive line.
His big break came when he was added to the roster for the 1980 Blue-Gray game in place of an injured player and made the most of it, standing out in practice as pro scouts watched before named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
It was the first of many awards for Long, who still lasted to the second round (No. 48 overall) before the Raiders selected him in the 1981 NFL Draft.
“I had a tremendous time over my four years at Villanova and ended up being a shock draft pick in the second round by the Raiders,” Long said.
Long started as a rookie and made 7½ sacks, but that’s unofficial because sacks were not an official NFL statistic until the following season. For his career, he had 91½ sacks, including a career-high 13 in 1983, and five in one game that season against the Washington Redskins.
In addition, Long recovered 10 fumbles and intercepted two passes.
When the Raiders routed the defending champion Washington Redskins, 38-9, in Super Bowl XVIII, Long manhandled tackle George Starke as the Silver and Black limited John Riggins to 90 yards in 32 carries.
“Howie Long! Howie Long could do everything,” said Joe Gardi, who was defensive coordinator of the New York Jets at the time. “Howie was that all-around player.”
Added Jets All-Pro tackle Marvin Powell: “Howie Long was the best defensive end I’ve ever seen.”
Long made the Pro Bowl eight times during his career, was chosen to the NFL All-Pro team five times, was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1985, and was selected to the NFL 1980s All-Decade team.
In 2000, he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
“I cannot picture Howie Long being anything but a Raider,” said Earl Leggett, Long’s defensive line coach with the Raiders. “Mr. Davis, I want to thank you, because you certainly made the job easier.
“Now let's get to the memories of watching a rookie over a span of 13 seasons develop into one of the top players. Seeing No. 75 slash through-line, make the big play, or have the quarterback on the run, or his development in defeating blocking combinations.
“ … These memories will last forever.”
Long said that making it to the Hall of Fame had been a goal of his since early in his career, but he really didn’t talk about it.
All he had to do was look at Raiders history.
“I had the good fortune of being around guys who were Hall of Famers and soon-to-be Hall of Famers,” Long said of playing for the Silver and Black. “Fred Biletnikoff and you’re around Jim Otto, around Ted Hendricks, Art Shell, and Gene Upshaw and all of those players.
“There was never talk of the Hall of Fame. … Really everything was geared toward being the best possible player that you could be for your football team and having a shot to win a Super Bowl. That was really the driving force.
“Toward the end of my career, Willie Brown told me: ‘You gotta get you one of these.’”
When he said it, Brown flashed his Hall of Fame ring, and Long did what he was told.
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