Long, strange trip: Howie makes it to Canton

Hall of Famers Published on : 1/1/2005

2000 Enshrinee: Howie Long

Players the caliber of Howie Long are supposed to be found in the first round of the National Football League draft after an outstanding career at a major college or university.

But when the Oakland Raiders selected the 6-5, 270-pound Long in the second round of the 1981 draft, he was considered a "diamond in the rough."

The Raiders selected Long following his career at Villanova where his stock rose after being named Most Valuable Player in the 1980 Blue-Gray Game. What the Raiders scouts saw at that time was a young untrained talent with a burning desire to be the best. Still, his future as a pro seemed uncertain.

Howie and the Raiders' defensive line in 1992

Howie Long (75) and his Raider linemates
in a 1992 game (NFL Photos)

Determined to succeed, Howie set personal goals and worked hard to achieve them. "My goal as a rookie was simply to make the team," he said in 1984. "My second year I wanted to be a starter. Then, my third year I wanted to make the Pro Bowl." Having achieved each of those goals he was asked if he had a new one. Without hesitation the four-year veteran defensive end replied, "I want to be a Hall of Famer. I want it desperately."

Those who knew Long understood that his desire to be a Hall of Famer, wasn't just a burst of bravado, but rather a clear objective - one that he would in fact achieve 16 years later as a member of the Hall of Fame Class of 2000.

Howie Long's rise to pro football stardom and eventual Hall of Fame election was not an easy journey. Raised in the tough, blue-collar town of Charlestown, Massachusetts, outside of Boston, his parents divorced when he was twelve years old. He went to live with his grandmother and then a succession of aunts and uncles.

When he was 14, he moved in with an aunt and uncle in the Boston suburb of Milford and began attending Milford High School.

At Milford, Long turned his sometimes-misdirected energies to sports. He ran track and played football and basketball. "I wasn't an aggressive kid," Long said of his youth. "I wasn't involved in sports when I was younger. The separation in my family and being raised by my grandmother had its positive and negative sides. The positive side was my grandmother brought me up to be a caring individual. I've never been the type of person who takes advantage of smaller or weaker people. On the negative side, I was never pushed into anything."

But once he arrived at Milford High School all that began to change. Football coach Dick Corbin made a real impact on young Howie's life. When Corbin saw the then 6-3, 220-pound sophomore in the school hallway, he invited him to try out for the football team.

"I was shocked that I was good at it," Long said. I'd never played on a team until high school. It gave me a sense of belonging, a focus, and helped build my confidence. I never imagined myself going on to anything in football - it wasn't even a lifetime dream of mine.

It was just something that more or less, as time went by, I made a transition to."
Long's transition took him to Villanova on an athletic scholarship, where he not only excelled at football, but was also the Northern Collegiate boxing champion. Although he matured considerably at Villanova, leading the team in sacks as a sophomore and senior, his football skills didn't capture the attention of many pro scouts, since the school was hardly a major college football showcase program.

"Villanova is a terrific school, but its football program had a lot of problems when I was there," Long stated. But following his MVP performance in the Blue-Gray Game, scouts descended on him "by the planeloads."

"I had to run for so many scouts, so many more scouts than the average lineman from a big program," he reflected. "I went to a small school and there were doubts about my ability."