The Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders have always had colorful players, especially in their early years.
When he first arrived in Oakland in 1981, Howie Long wasn’t exactly a character.
In fact, the second-round pick from Villanova looked a little out of place.
However, he was determined to succeed in the NFL and soon became one of the best defensive linemen in pro football.
Howie Long spent his entire career playing DE for the Raiders (in Oakland & Los Angeles). He finished his career with 84 total sacks, 10 fumble recoveries & 2 interceptions. He helped lead the Raiders to victory in Super Bowl XVIII & was inducted to the Pro Football HOF in 2000. pic.twitter.com/rYhvmkeXZl
— CNPN (@CNPodNet) January 3, 2019
During his 13-year career, Long was an NFL Defensive Player of the Year, an eight-time Pro Bowler, and won a Super Bowl.
He then became an actor and an analyst for Fox Sports before being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
This is the story of Howie Long.
Early Life in Charlestown
Howard Matthew Moses Long was born on January 6, 1960, in Somerville, Massachusetts.
Happy birthday, Howie Long 🎂 pic.twitter.com/e7CTrt5fh0
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) January 6, 2022
Long and his parents initially lived with his grandmother in Charlestown, Massachusetts, a working-class town with a tough reputation.
When he was nine, his parents bought their own house, and that’s when Howie’s life began to turn upside-down.
“From that minute on, everything went downhill,” Long said. “No one ever cooked in our house.”
A few years later, Long’s parents divorced, and Howie lived with his grandmother, whom he affectionately called “Ma.”
Living with Ma gave Long structure, to a point.
He was frequently absent from school and found entertainment in the form of street hockey and playing football in a neighborhood park.
— Evan Siff (@Stairway2Evan) October 4, 2018
When Long had the opportunity to play Pop Warner football for his uncles, he didn’t stay, although he was already a big kid.
“I was C-team age and A-team weight,” Long said. “I didn’t feel like going out there and taking a daily beating from kids two and three years older.”
In fact, Long’s size should have been an incentive for him to play organized football.
However, he had learned respect from his grandmother, and Howie didn’t like the idea of hurting anyone.
“Howie was always bigger than everybody else,” said his cousin, Michael Mullan, “but he wasn’t tough. When you’re that big and you ain’t tough, you’ve got a problem. Everyone wants a piece of a big guy. Kids would pick on him.”
Life Changes for the Better
By the time he was in high school, Long had become a regular truancy case.
Exasperated, his grandmother shipped him off to live with an uncle who was known for running a tight ship.
His Uncle Billy lived in Milford, Massachusetts, which is only 20 miles from Charlestown, but it might as well have been a different planet.
When he began attending Milford High School, Long couldn’t believe how different it was from his previous school.
“… High School, U.S.A. A beautiful place,” said Long. “They had cheerleaders, grass fields. I didn’t know there was grass on the other side of the hill. I thought every place was like Charlestown. The first time I saw it, it was intimidating because it was so beautiful.”
Long was still averse to playing football in pads until Milford coach Dick Corbin spied him in the hall one day.
Corbin took one look at the 6’3”, 220-pound specimen and encouraged him to play football.
Long reluctantly agreed and spent his sophomore year essentially learning the sport.
After football season, Long played basketball for Milford and began training with weights.
Born in Somerville, Raised in Charlestown, High School in Milford, and a Villanova Alum !! 🔵⚪️
Welcome to the Howie Long Sports Performance Center.
One of the Best Facilities in the Country Thanks to this NFL Hall of Famer and Massachusetts Connection !
Fly It \/// https://t.co/1iW7dvAP6m
— Matthew Colangelo (@CoachLang22) April 2, 2020
He also competed in track and eventually set state records in the discus and shot put.
The results of his sudden interest in competitive sports became evident the following year.
As a junior, Long came into his own and made a name for himself as a tackle.
That season, the Hawks went undefeated and won a state title.
By the end of his senior year, Long was playing so well that local colleges began recruiting him.
“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.”
One of the schools that wanted Long was Boston College.
During a recruiting visit to BC, however, Long’s uncle asked a coach what would happen to his nephew if he got hurt.
The response was less than encouraging.
“The guy told me, ‘Well, we only have so many scholarships a year,’” Bill Mullan said. “‘He’d lose it,’ so Howie switched and went to Villanova, where they offered him a four-year.”
Shortly after arriving at Villanova, Long got a sense of how important football was to the university.
“No film room,” said Long in 1985, “no reporters in the locker room; Ivy League level without Ivy League wealth.”
Switch to Defense
Even with subpar facilities, Long threw himself into gaining weight so he could dominate his opponents.
“I went to Villanova, started lifting weights and was on a meal plan, and went from 225 to 265 in one summer,” said Long. “I would say that transition was the most eye-opening, vivid sports memory for me. I went from a kid who didn’t know what he was doing, like a young horse with all legs, to being a 265-pounder who was physical. I realized there are things I could do that other people couldn’t do. That was an a-ha moment for me.”
After beginning his collegiate career as a tight end, Long moved to the defensive line and played nose guard and defensive end.
— Kevin Shea (@3KevinShea) December 3, 2021
As a senior, he had 84 tackles and four sacks and was named an honorable mention All-American and All-East.
Long was a great athlete for the Wildcats, but the school wasn’t exactly known for its football program.
“Villanova is a terrific school, but its football program had a lot of problems when I was there,” Long stated.
In his four years with Villanova, the Wildcats’ best record was a 6-5 finish in 1980.
Long’s Blue-Gray Game Attracts Scouts
Long’s football life may have ended after college graduation if not for a timely opportunity.
The coaching staff for the Blue team in the annual Blue-Gray all-star game needed an extra body.
Long’s name was brought up, and they asked him to play.
In the week leading up to the contest, nobody thought much of Long, and he was dismissed as little more than fodder for the players from bigger programs.
Then, the game started, and Long was frequently in the opposing team’s backfield harassing the quarterback.
I played in the 1980 blue-gray game….south was supposed to kill us …but we had 2 unknown DL by name of Howie Long and Dexter Manley…..and our DC was okla st coach jimmy Johnson ….how about that @JimNagy_SB !! https://t.co/9n3aUp3VmU
— Mike Mayock (@MikeMayock) December 26, 2018
He also blocked a punt and handled himself so well that he was named the game’s defensive MVP.
His play suddenly drew interest from NFL teams who sent scouts by the planeload.
“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.”
The Oakland Raiders sent Earl Leggett, their defensive line coach, to run drills with Long.
By the time Leggett left, Long thought he had blown it.
“Earl had me set a couple of times and plant and come upfield 20 yards, and then he left,” Long said. “I thought, ‘Well, that’s one team I can forget about,’ and I went up to my room and watched Leave It to Beaver.”
Unbeknownst to Long, Leggett had already done his homework and was impressed with the kid from Villanova.
“I had seen his Blue-Gray films,” Leggett recalled, “and we knew he’d run a 4.75 forty, but when you got around him, you could feel the damn power and energy. You could just feel the brute strength.”
Long Becomes a Raider
After the 1981 NFL Draft began, the Raiders were looking ahead to their second-round choice.
Leggett actively told the team management that they needed to select Long.
A birthday memoriam for one of the best, Raiders DL coach Earl Leggett, March 5, 1933 – May 15, 2008.
(1980-1988 & 1991-1992)
Super Bowl XV & XVIII champion.
* played DE/DT for the Bears, Rams & Saints
(Howie Long's HOF presenter & mentor) pic.twitter.com/i8lUqsVLnU
— AFL Godfather 🏴☠️👓🏈 (@NFLMAVERICK) March 5, 2023
There was pushback from scouts and fellow Raiders coaches, but ultimately, the organization picked Long with the 48th overall selection in the second round of the draft.
“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 him real hard on draft day.”
The transition from Villanova to the Oakland Raiders was a culture shock for Long.
“It was a brave new world,” Long said in 2015. “Going from Villanova to that Oakland locker room was (he paused) … There’s a priest on every floor at Villanova. There’s not a priest anywhere near that locker room—particularly at that time.”
Leggett spent most of his time breaking Long of his bad habits from college and forming techniques that would make him successful in the NFL.
“(At that time) we were still playing with forearms at Villanova,” said Long. “The technique was terrible. I didn’t know formations.”
To get a better sense of where to play Long, Leggett tried him at several positions.
“Every day at practice, it was a new position,” Long recalled. “I played on the nose. I played right end, left end, left tackle, and right tackle. I couldn’t understand what he was doing at the time. A lot of people were questioning it because I wasn’t settling in at one position. So how could I grow as a player?”
During practice, Long frequently faced players such as tackle Art Shell and found himself thrown through the air with the greatest of ease.
— AFL Godfather 🏴☠️👓🏈 (@NFLMAVERICK) April 28, 2022
Thankfully, through hard work, Long was eventually able to hold his own.
As a rookie in 1981, Long realized why Leggett had him practice at each defensive line spot.
“Earl Leggett, as it turns out, was moving me around with a plan,” Long said. “His plan was I’m going to be the first guy that plays from tackle to tackle in any sequence of plays. I could be a nose guard on one play, left tackle the next, right tackle the next, left end, right end. I could play anywhere. I didn’t know that at the time, but he was building me to do that specifically.”
Long didn’t start any games for Oakland that year, but he played enough to lead the team in sacks with 7.5 (the NFL didn’t keep track of tackles at the time).
His sack numbers that season are unofficial since the NFL didn’t begin tracking that stat until the following year.
In 1982, the franchise moved to Los Angeles, and the man teammates called “Caveman” started five games at defensive end and had 5.5 sacks.
75 days until Super Bowl LVII at Glendale, AZ. And # of @ProFootballHOF DE Howie Long, 8-time Pro Bowler, 2-time All-Pro w/#Raiders, SB XVIII champion (77.5 career sacks via @pfref) #NFL #Raidernation pic.twitter.com/pk1ZuCuN2M
— Russell S. Baxter (@BaxFootballGuru) November 29, 2022
He also put in long nights of film study before games with only two cheeseburgers and copious amounts of iced tea to keep him company.
“If I don’t look at films the night before, I feel naked the next day,” Long said in 1985.
Super Bowl Bound
By 1983, Long was one of the best young defensive ends in the NFL.
His confidence had grown immensely from just a few years earlier when he constantly doubted his ability.
“I tend to be my own worst critic,” he said. “I don’t need a lot of criticism from other people because I get enough from myself. I’m very paranoid about my own perception of the way I play.”
By his third year, Long was even known to talk trash to opponents.
— TOOZ#72 (@denniss9117) August 13, 2020
During a timeout in a game against the Seattle Seahawks, Long waltzed over to the Seahawks huddle and insulted the Seahawks linemen who were guzzling water.
“Give me that water. They don’t need it. They’re not doing anything,” said Long to a Seattle team trainer.
Long backed up his sass with a career-high 13 sacks (including five in a single game against the Redskins) and earned his first of eight Pro Bowls and his first of five All-Pro nods.
“There are guys who are bigger, guys who are stronger, guys who are meaner,” said teammate Matt Millen of Long. “But none of them puts it together the way he does. Nobody has his blend. He does everything.”
Los Angeles finished the regular season 12-4 and eliminated Pittsburgh and Seattle in the playoffs by a combined margin of 68-24.
— Old School 80s (@OldSchool80s) January 22, 2021
In Super Bowl XVIII against the Washington Redskins, the Raiders’ defense scored a touchdown and held Washington to just nine points in a 38-9 blowout victory.
Defensive Player of the Year
While the Raiders returned to the postseason in 1984 with an 11-5 record, Long had 12 sacks.
He followed that up in 1985 with 10 sacks and recognition as the NFL co-Defensive Player of the Year and NFL Alumni Defensive Lineman of the Year.
75 days until 2022 @ProFootballHOF Game (#Raiders vs. #Jaguars). And # of @ProFootballHOF DE Howie Long, 8-time Pro Bowler, 2-time All-Pro w/#Raiders, SB XVIII champion (77.5 career sacks via @pfref) #NFL #Raidernation@JulesForTheBlue @PfgVibe #VibeHearted #NFL pic.twitter.com/92e497tl4z
— Russell S. Baxter (@BaxFootballGuru) May 21, 2022
Not only was Long a talented pass rusher, but he was equally adept at stopping the run.
“I won’t have the sacks of a Mark Gastineau,” Long said, “and I won’t get all those pursuit tackles. Our responsibilities are different. He’s allowed to freelance all over the field. I have back-side responsibility. I have to play the reverses and cutbacks. Let me know when Gastineau decides to play the run.”
Long was such a threat as a defender that teams did everything they could to stay away from him.
“I don’t think I had two or three running plays directed at me all year,” he said. “On some passing plays, I’d shuck the tackle, get by the tight end, then have the halfback chop me. It was a great compliment, I guess, but it got frustrating.”
Long Gets His Sacks Despite Injuries
From 1983 through the middle of the 1986 season, Long never missed a game.
Partway through the ’86 season, he sustained an injury and missed three games.
However, Long also had 7.5 sacks that year and went to his fourth Pro Bowl.
In 1987, a player’s strike reduced the season to 15 games, and Long had four sacks and yet another Pro Bowl.
— AFL Godfather 🏴☠️👓🏈 (@NFLMAVERICK) December 8, 2022
Then, in 1988, the injury bug caught up with him again. Long played in just six games, netted three sacks, and his first career interception.
The following season, the team fired coach Mike Shanahan after a 1-3 start, and Art Shell (who had tormented Long during his rookie year) became the Raiders interim coach.
Long had torn ligaments in his ankle during training camp in 1989, but he wanted to stay on the field as much as possible and play hard for his former teammate.
Although hampered by his injury, Long started 10 games, collected five sacks, and took his misery out on opponents.
He was rewarded after the year with his sixth Pro Bowl nod.
“I’m more proud of that Pro Bowl than any other, after being injured and everyone counting me out,” Long proudly stated. “I was challenged and accepted the challenge.”
The Raiders Return to the Postseason
Shell became the Raiders’ full-time head coach in 1990 and immediately led the team back to the postseason after a four-year absence.
As Los Angeles was winning 12 games, Long re-established his dominance.
— NFL Classic! (@79_nfl) December 4, 2019
During a 14-9 win over Denver in Week 1, Long tormented quarterback John Elway all day.
Along with six tackles and a forced fumble and recovery, Long sacked Elway once (one of six sacks for the season) and forced the quarterback to make a bad throw that was intercepted for an Oakland touchdown.
After the regular season, the Raiders defeated Cincinnati for the organization’s first playoff victory since 1983 but lost to the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship game.
In 1991, Long had three sacks while LA returned to the playoffs following a 9-7 season. The Raiders lost to Kansas City in the Wild Card round.
Long was in his early thirties in 1992 and 1993 when he suddenly experienced a career resurgence.
In 1990 and 1991 combined, he had nine sacks. Then, in 1992 alone, Long had nine sacks and returned to the Pro Bowl for the first time in three years.
One year later, Long had six more sacks as the Raiders went 10-6, crushed Denver in the Wild Card round, and then lost to Buffalo in the Divisional round.
One of the greatest.
Howie Long continues the Hall of Fame countdown to the 2021 season. pic.twitter.com/KSLnN5SrvW
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) June 30, 2021
Long didn’t miss a start in either season, and it seemed like he could continue playing for the foreseeable future.
It was shocking when he decided to retire following the 1993 season.
“Many things drive you,” Long said at his retirement announcement. “You want to be the best at what you do. You want to win a world championship and you want to go to the Pro Bowl. I wanted to be the Art Shell of the defensive line for the Raiders.”
During his career, Long had 91.5 sacks, although 7.5 of his sacks are unofficial because they came during his rookie year in 1981.
Long also had two interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries.
He was a Super Bowl champ, five-time All-Pro, and eight-time Pro Bowler, which tied him with Shell.
The NFL later named Long a member of its 1980s All-Decade Team.
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) January 6, 2019
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
Only a few years after his retirement, Long pivoted to acting and appeared in many commercials, television shows, and movies, including Broken Arrow, Firestorm, and 3000 Miles to Graceland.
Firestorm released in theaters January 9, 1998
— The Movie Professor 🎬🎥📺 (@FunMovieTVFan) January 9, 2022
When he wasn’t acting, Long began a new career as an analyst for Fox Sports (where he is still employed) and won an Emmy Award in 1997 for his work as a studio analyst.
He was also nominated for the same award ten times.
How Fox's 25 seasons of covering the NFL changed the gamehttps://t.co/9v1l5wjFKT
From left, Jay Glazer, Howie Long, Terry Bradshaw and Michael Strahan attend the Fox Sports Media Up… pic.twitter.com/TPTYUFELi0
— Happy Day 24 (@CryptoTech24) December 30, 2018
During his college years at Villanova, Long met Diane Addonizio, and the couple married in 1982.
They have three sons, and all three have followed their father into the NFL.
Chris and Kyle Long played in the NFL where Chris won two Super Bowls as a member of the Patriots and Eagles.
His youngest son, Howie Jr., has worked in player personnel for the Las Vegas Raiders.