Howie Long's Enshrinement Speech

01/01/2005

July 29, 2000 in Canton, Ohio

Howie's presenter, Earl Leggett (ex-Oakland defensive line coach):

Good afternoon. My being involved in this tent goes to show that anything is possible. Not only do I consider this a great honor, but I have been waiting with tremendous pride, because a player that I coached has been selected to the Hall of Fame. 

Now for all of this to happen, a lot of sacrifices, decisions, and lifetime memories occurred. Now we don’t have time to go in all of the sacrifices, or all the decisions, or all the lifetime memories, but some need to be addressed. One of the things that we discussed in our player meetings was in our business, a good wife is hard to find. No words are truer than these. Behind every successful man is a dedicated woman. So when you find one, treat her with respect. Diane, it was a tough 13 years, a lot of sacrifices. You did a great job. It made my job easier. 

The person who made all this possible was Mr. Al Davis and his Raider organization. Mr. Davis’ second round selection in 1981 set the wheels in motion. It was the right pick at the right time for the right player. I cannot picture Howie Long being anything but a Raider. Mr. Davis, I want to thank you, because you certainly made the job easier. 

Now lets get to the memories of watching a rookie over a span of 13 seasons develop into one of the top players. Seeing number 75 slash through line, make the big play, or have the quarterback on the run. Or his development in defeating blocking combinations. Also the after-game sessions when the opposing offensive line coach, our owner, offer the summons by the head coach to
come to his office to tone Howie’s play down in practice because sometimes it got heated. And I won’t forget how you paid the price to be great. The fellowship that we had at Saturday night dinners, what great fun they were. These memories will last forever. 

In 1981 as we were preparing for the upcoming draft, trying to put players in draft order, I was sent out to scout a college senior at Villanova by Mr. Davis through Ron Wolf. I had seen some tapes of his season and post-season games. So I scheduled a workout and made the trip to Villanova and his workout was very impressive. I returned to the Raiders, and in out draft meeting, I recommended him as our No. 1 draft choice. Mr. Davis had seen some of the same qualities that I had seen and drafted him in the second round. Howie came into mini-camp and we went to work. I would hope that you coaches and would-be coaches and want to be coaches -- no matter what sport -- could have someone who is as focused, determined, and knew exactly what he wanted. Not only did he have the qualities that you put in the measurable categories such as strength, quickness, and size, but his greatest assets were
the intangibles. Posted around our defensive line meeting room, we have certain slogans. And one that I really tried to drive home, it goes like this – I want to surround myself with players who will pay the price to become great, and then become their leader. Howie was the best leader that I have ever been associated with. Not only in his professional life, but in his personal life. He has a knack of raising everyone a notch higher. He had total focus, a student of the game, but more important, or the most important, were the intangibles. Number one: His ability to tell when he had to leverage on opposing players. Two: His outstanding work ethic. And Three: The total fear of not being successful. Now listen one more time. Thirteen years, eight Pro Bowls, three-time Lineman of the Year, one-time Defensive Player of the Year, one-time Comeback Player of the Year, First Team-Decade of the '80s. Howie was like a coach on the field. In those 13 years, I thought that he became the most disrupting force in pro football. Howie complained that I never said he did a good job. I always told him “that’s what you get paid for.” But now is the time to say “Howie, good job. A job well done.” Howie Long.

HOWIE LONG

Howie Long poses with his bust July 29, 2000

Thank you. Well, the over and the under on who would cry first was … the even money was on Ronnie. We never factored Earl in. You know, I can’t help but think, I was walking through the hallway leading into the platform that is the Hall of Fame, watching all the great former players being introduced. And a thing that Charlie Sumner, my old defensive coordinator, used to say before every game came to mind and I shared it with my fellow inductees. He said “well, they showed up. I guess we’re going to have to play.” Well you folks showed up. I guess we’re going to have to do this thing. 

First I’d like to thank the City of Canton. Their warmth and hospitality, I will not soon forget. I’d also like to thank the Hall of Fame Committee, in particular, John Bankert and Tammy Owens for helping to make this week's events so special for both my family and me. I’d also like to thank the Hall of Fame voters, in particular, Frank Cooney and Will McDonough. Their's is a job that is particularly tough. They are not only given the responsibility of dictating the legacy of today’s inductees and the many players who have come before us, but also the legacy of the National Football League. I’d also like to congratulate my fellow inductees – the Class of 2000 – and what a group it is. I’ve had five or six clean shots on Joe, but I didn’t take it. His kids are too cute. That’s the only thing that saved you, Joe. I’m honored to be going in with such an outstanding group. Men who helped define their eras in pro football. But more importantly, a first-class group of men. 

I’ve always had an appreciation for the history of the National Football League, and today the Class of 2000 has the good fortune of sharing the stage with the many great players who helped pave the way for not only today’s inductees, but the many players who play the game today. A number of these great men influenced my career as a young man. Guys like Bob Lilly, Lee Roy Selmon, Randy White, and Joe Greene. And I even go as far back as Gino Marchetti. These were men I studied and I admired. I tried to take a piece of each and every one of their games and incorporate them into the way I played. 

Another player who influenced my career as a young player was a guy by the name of Joe Klecko. He made the Pro Bowl as a defensive end, defensive tackle, and as a nose tackle. In my opinion, if it were not for an injury-shortened career, he might well be sitting behind me here today. 

Personally it’s very difficult to put into perspective what this means to me. This great honor. In the 80 years of the National Football League, over 18,000 men have played this game. Many great players. Of those 18,000-plus players, 171 have ended up in this final glorious destination. Of those 171, only seven have been defensive ends. I for one, believe that being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is the most prestigious individual honor in all of sports. Baseball has been called America’s pastime, and since my retirement, through my three sons, I have come to appreciate the ability of baseball to bring families closer together, and in particular, fathers and sons. In my opinion, baseball is America’s pastime, but football is truly America’s passion. 

As Earl pointed out, I think back at the beginning of my career when a man named Al Davis drafted a kid out of Villanova in the second round, and at that time many of the football experts viewed that pick as a stretch, a reach, a surprise. But Al Davis saw something in me that many, including myself, did not. The Raiders were a team steeped in history. From the moment I walked into the Raider camp I could feel it. It was all around me. People who not only defined what the Raiders were about, but also define what the National Football League was all about – John Madden, George Blanda, Ted Hendricks, Jim Otto, Willie Brown, Fred Biletnikoff, and Gene Upshaw and Art Shell helped bring me up. Then, of course, there was an owner named Al Davis, whose passion for winning was unparalleled in sports. So it’s understandable that when you're around people like that on a daily basis, you allow yourself to dream just a little bit. Albeit way in the back of your mind, dream of someday maybe being one of them. But at that time, taking the place of football history with those great men was just a dream and nothing more. I am extremely proud to have been a Raider. I am also proud to have played my entire career with the Raiders. Something that rarely happens in today’s game. 

When I first learned of my election, I gave a great deal of thought to who would be my presenter. My first thought was to have my 15-year-old son Christopher be my presenter and do the honor. But when we discussed it, although Christopher is never at a loss for words, he felt that maybe this would be a little bit too much for even him to handle, but it was extremely important for me, that he know that he was my first choice. 

It was shortly after that, that the Hall of Fame Committee was kind enough to invite the inductees to the Pro Bowl. There at a breakfast, Willie Lanier spoke to us about our induction. One of the topics discussed was: who would be our presenter? And what Willie said helped make my choice an easy one. The person you chose as your presenter should be the person that’s had the most to do with you being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Earl Leggett was not only my defensive line coach, he was like a second father to me. Playing for Earl was a lot like playing for John Wayne. He was tough, hard-headed, and unrelenting, and still is. I’ve often kidded Earl that the only reason that it took me two years to figure out how to play in the National Football League was because I couldn’t understand a damn thing he was saying. You see, Earl’s from Mississippi or Louisiana or Florida or somewhere down there and I’m from Boston, Massachusetts. Obviously there was a language barrier. Although some of the things that he did call me early on in my career even people from Boston would understand. Playing for Earl was not for everyone and my teammates who are out there in the audience, I see Marcus Allen, Sean Jones, those guys would attest to the work that we had to go though. I saw many players over the years fall by the wayside trying to attempt to get through an Earl Leggett training camp. Getting through one of those camps was a lot like climbing Mt. Everest in the 1920s without oxygen. Our defensive line, in my opinion, was the best prepared group in football. Earl took me to a place physically and mentally that I had no idea that I could reach. He challenged me on every single snap, on every single day. He challenged me not only to play on position, but all five defensive line positions and was unrelenting in his pursuit of perfection. There were many days early on in my career if wondered if in fact I would survive. At the time it never occurred to me that may of the lessons that I learned under Earl would not only serve me well in football, but also in life. Earl stressed commitment, hard work, sacrifice, and the will to be the best, and most importantly, how to be a man. In many way, Earl has played a significant role in not only my football career, but also in the success that I’ve been fortunate enough to have after football. That is why it is so special for me to have Earl be a part of today’s great honor. 

Obviously, today’s induction is an individual honor, but any time and honor such as this is bestowed upon an individual, the many people who have touched that individual along the way hopefully can take a little piece of it home with them. I’ve had the good fortune of crossing paths with a number of people over the years who hopefully feel that they can take a piece of today home with them. First I’d like to recognize the many players whom I’ve had the privilege of playing with during my career. In particular, the core group of my defensive line. The late Lyle Alzado. Cedric Hardman, who was my roommate my rookie year. You want to talk about an odd combination. Greg, how’s that? You played with Cedric and I’ve played with Cedric. How old is Cedric? Greg Townsend, Reggie Kinlaw, Sean Jones, who I see in the back of the audience. Mitch Willis, and in particular, Bill Pickel, whose friendship, loyalty and sense of humor taught me what a true friend is. Al Davis, for taking a chance on me. Giving me the opportunity to wear the silver and black. For always being there for me through the years and believing in me. More importantly though, for being so kind to my family, and in particular, my grandmother, Elizabeth Mullin.

Dick Corbin, who gave me my start as a high school football player, and whose wife Ruthann, for all of their support through high school. My years at Villanova were the best of times, and two people in particular who were always there for me, I’d like to recognize. Lou Ferry, my defensive line coach. His true heart, his humor, and his love for the game is what makes him so special to so many of his former players. Bob Capone, who recruited me to Villanova and always looked out for me through thick and thin, and God knows there was some thick. And I’m happy to say that many years have passed but our friendship remains a constant. Betty Peterson, began as my assistant and has become like family to me and my entire family. 

To my parents who brought me into this world. My uncles whose character and integrity and sense of family I have always admired. My Uncle Billy and Aunt Ada who took a troubled 13-year-old while raising four children of their own. As time has passed, I’ve come to realize what a tremendous sacrifice they made for me. If not for them, I would not be here today. My cousin Michael, who I always admired growing up and viewed as a older brother. To my grandmother, Ma Mullin, whose undying love and support for me through my childhood meant so much. I only wish she could be here today, but I know in my heart she is up there somewhere saying “see, I told you you’d be somebody special.” And finally, to my family, who I love so much. Our three sons Christopher, Kyle, and Howie. Although I am so proud that they are here to be a part of this amazing event, my relationship with them could not be any further removed from the world of football. So it’s been extremely rewarding in the days leading up to today’s inductions to watch their faces while they watch many different sports programs and in many cases for the first time, seeing footage of their dad playing football. To watch their reactions, how proud and surprised they appear to be. To hear them say “Wow Dad, you were pretty good. You were tough, too.” That in it of itself eclipses any award that I can receive, for their love means more to me than anything in the world. I’m fading. My wife Diane, who sacrificed so much for our children and me. Who walked away from a career as a corporate litigator after our third son Howie was born so that I could continue to pursue my dream. For 22  years she has been my best friend, my biggest supporter, my biggest critic, my voice of reason, and my shrink. Her love for my three sons, her love for me, her selflessness, her compassion, her kindness challenged me to be a better father, a better husband, and a better person every day. I tell my boys how blessed we are to have her.

In conclusion, I think back to something Earl Leggett said to me way back in 1981 when I first arrived at the Raiders, and keep in mind, I was not a very good football player when I did arrive there. He said “Kid, if your work hard and you do what I tell you to do, I’ll make you wealthy beyond your wildest dreams, and I’ll make you a household name in every home in America.” Well Earl, we missed free agency by a few years, but I have to admit it’s a hell of a lot more famous that I could have ever dreamed. Thank you.

 

Back to news