Gold Jacket Spotlight: Howie Long, second-round surprise turned star

Gold Jacket Spotlight Published on : 4/24/2023
Much to the surprise of nearly the entire NFL, the analysts covering the draft and those watching at home, the Oakland Raiders selected HOWIE LONG from Villanova University in the second round of the 1981 draft.
Many viewed the choice as a gamble, a stretch, perhaps even the waste of the 48th overall pick for a prospect not many teams had seen on film and with limited information.

A surprise to everyone other than Raiders defensive line coach Earl Leggett. 

"I think there was a possibility he still would have been around in the third round," Leggett said. "Nobody was really after him. But I didn't want to take a chance. I was pushing AL DAVIS real hard on draft day." 

The only surprise to Howie was how good he was at the sport of football. Born in Somerville, Mass., he grew up playing basketball, baseball and street hockey, all of which he preferred over organized football. It wasn't until Howie moved from his hometown at the age of 14 that he began playing the sport he would go on to dominate at the highest level. 

"I was shocked that I was good at it," Howie 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."

Howie's dreams can be attributed to his hard work and determination to succeed through setting goals. 

"My goal as a rookie was simply to make the team," he said during an interview in 1984. "My second year I wanted to be a starter. Then, my third year, I wanted to make the Pro Bowl. I wanted it so badly that when Tom Flores called me in and told me, I wanted to cry." 

After achieving all the goals he had set heading into his fifth season, the up-and-coming star had one more goal on his list.

"I want to be a Hall of Famer. I want it desperately," he said.

Class membership came in 2000, and this week Howie finds himself in the Gold Jacket Spotlight.

While his last goal seemed loftier than his previous ones, former Oakland coaches and teammates quickly realized what the franchise's "surprise pick" could do on the field. 

"Without any question, Howie Long is one of the best defensive linemen in the league," Flores remarked in a 1985 interview. "Not just because he is so powerful or so active, but because of his versatility." 

"There are guys who are bigger, guys who are stronger, guys who are meaner," said former teammate Matt Millen. "But none of them puts it together the way he does. Nobody has his blend. He does everything." 

Posting a career-high 13 sacks in his third season, Howie's success would help propel the Los Angeles Raiders to victory in Super Bowl XVIII. For his performance in the regular season, the 23-year-old was named to his first of eight Pro Bowls and second-team All-Pro. 

Although his career came to an unexpected ending after 13 seasons, Howie knew it was time to find to the next stone to turn.  

"It's time to get on with life," he said. "Having won a world championship, having done just about everything there is to do in sports from a defensive lineman's standpoint . . . that is, in my mind, the way I think you should leave sports."

Long joined "FOX NFL Sunday" as a studio analyst after retiring in 1993 and has worked alongside countless legends as a mainstay on the show since its inception in 1994. 

To the surprise of no one, Howie won the Sports Emmy Award for Outstanding Studio Analyst in 1997 and would receive 10 consecutive nominations in the category from 1997 to 2006. 

"I'm not sure I could have been content with being average," he said. 

His success off the field has not gone unnoticed. 

"Howie can look at something and nail it the first time," said fellow Hall of Famer TERRY BRADSHAW, Howie's studio partner for the past 29 years at FOX. "He looks at it from an intelligent point of view, and I admire that a lot. I respect that."