Our series on ASN’s 50 greatest NFL championship competitors of the past 50 years continues with No. 18 Howie Long, originally published on Jan. 30.
Howie Long told Pro Football Digest in June 1986 that he wanted, “Financial security, and I want to be in the Hall of Fame. That’s my goal. And I’d like to win a few more Super Bowls.”
Long went 2-for-3. That he missed on the third wasn’t for lack of effort or ability.
A generation of football fans might know Long only as a TV analyst and commercial pitchman. But he was one of the best defensive ends in history and part of the Raiders legacy.
Long, 6-5 and 268 pounds, was a second-round draft choice out of Villanova in 1981. At first glance, a clean-cut, Catholic kid from Massachusetts might have seemed out of place in a franchise known for its characters and castoffs and second-chancers. But he fit the Raiders’ philosophy of unearthing players who meshed with their system, regardless of background or personal history.
In a 13-year career, all with the Raiders, Long was a five-time All-Pro and eight times voted to the Pro Bowl. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
“I think back at the beginning of my career,” Long said at his induction speech, “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 competitive pinnacle for Long came in 1983, when he and the Raiders won the AFC Championship and crushed the favored Washington Redskins 38-9 in Super Bowl XVIII. The game was notable for MVP Marcus Allen’s 191 yards rushing and electric 74-yard touchdown run, as well as Jack Squirek’s short interception return for a TD late in the first half.
But the Raiders’ defense shut down the NFL’s highest-scoring offense (541 points). Long had five tackles in the game, as the Raiders sacked quarterback Joe Theismann six times and limited him to 16 of 35 completions, with two interceptions. They held John Riggins to 64 yards rushing and the Redskins to 92 yards rushing.
“I could see the frustration in Riggins’ face,” Long said in a Washington Post story the day after the game. “I could see the fear in Theismann’s face.”
Long retired after the 1993 season, amassing 91.5 sacks in his career. But his impact endured. In 2007, Pro Football Weekly named him one of the ends in its 3-4 defensive “Dream Team,” along with Lee Roy Selmon, in a vote of coaches, scouts and players.
“Howie Long’s intensity set him apart,” Hall of Fame offensive lineman John Hannah said in the PFW story. “That and the physical nature of his game. He was awesome. When the Raiders went to the nickel (defense), he’d be over me, so I know about his game. He had a strong rip (move) and when he plowed it, he could push you to the quarterback. He was so strong. And to be great at both end and tackle is really something else.”
Former Raiders defensive line coach Earl Leggett, who introduced Long in Canton, Ohio, called him the best leader he had ever been around, professionally and personally.
“I think back to something Earl Leggett said to me way back in 1981 when I first arrived at the Raiders,” Long said during his induction speech, “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.”