Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series acquainting fans with the Raiders’ illustrious 60-year history as the team moves to Las Vegas for the 2020 season.
Five years into a Raiders career that saw him go from a second-round pick from non-football powerhouse Villanova to multiple Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion, Howie Long took a peek into the future in the hopes of speaking some lofty goals into existence.
“Financial security,” he told Football Digest in 1986 upon being asked what he saw for himself moving forward. “And I want to be in the Hall of Fame. That’s my goal.”
Then Long added one more wish: “And I’d like to win a few more Super Bowls.”
Well, two out of three ain’t bad.
Long and the Raiders never reached another Super Bowl over his final eight seasons. But he had been a member of the Los Angeles Raiders championship team that beat the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII.
The financial security and the Hall of Fame, well, those goals were right on target.
His illustrious 13-year-career with the Raiders yielded an NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, eight Pro Bowl seasons as one of the NFL’s most dynamic defensive tackles and a member of the NFL’s 1980’s All-Decade team. Long had 84 career sacks, but that does not reflect the 7.5 sacks he had prior to the sack becoming an official stat in 1981.
From 1983 through the 1985 season Long had 35 sacks, went to three Pro Bowls, was a two-time first-team All Pro selection and was arguably the league’s most consistent defensive lineman.
All of which delivered him to the pinnacle of football when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000. It’s an honor he wished for at the midpoint of his career, but not something he seriously considered after being selected by the Raiders in the second round of the 1981 draft.
“Well, I don’t think you think of the Hall of Fame as a young player. That’s a space shuttle mission to Mars when you’re 21 years old,” Long told Elias Trejo of Bleacher Report in 2011.
But as he told Trejo, being surrounded by so many great players during one of the most successful periods of Raiders football provided Long with all the role models he’d need.
“I had the good fortune of being around guys who were Hall of Famers and soon to be Hall of Famers, 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. Toward the end of my career Willie Brown would say, “You gotta get you one of these,” meaning the Hall of Fame ring.
“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,” Long continued.
Long’s Raiders’ career built the foundation for the financial security he established for himself and his family, which includes sons Chris and Kyle, who followed his footsteps to NFL careers of their own, it turned out to be a stepping stone for a television career that has put Long into the living room of football fans across America as a key part of the FOX TV pregame show.
Not bad for a kid from Somerville, Massachusetts, whose self-described fear of failure — and the daunting ramifications that might come with that failure — turned him away from a scholarship offer from big-time Boston College in favor of smaller Villanova.
As Long told Paul Zimmerman in a Sports Illustrated profile in 1985, he had just finished reading the book Meat on the Hoof by Gary Shaw, where Shaw described what Texas did to players when they wanted their scholarships back.
Or, as Long explained, “how they ran them off the team and put them through torture drills.”
Long had recently signed his letter of intent to play at Boston College, but already doubt was already setting in about the potential of not living up to expectations and what that might mean for his scholarship.
“I was terrified,” Long said “What if I can’t play?”
Long’s uncle asked a Boston College coach what might happen, say, if Long got hurt.
“The guy told me, ‘Well, we only have so many scholarships a year,’” Bill Mullan told Sports Illustrated. “ ‘He’d lose it.’ So Howie switched and went to Villanova, where they offered him a four-year.”
While confidence would linger through the early part of Long’s career with the Raiders, it certainly didn’t interfere with his performance.
Or his ability to reach his goals.