Welcome back to our Throwback Thursday blog. Each week, we spotlight one of our favorite throwback superstars. We choose these stars using a rigorous scientific process we know in-house as “Whoever Nick Feels Like Writing About This Week Unless One Of His Coworkers Just Saw Broken Arrow And Won’t Shut Up About it.” This week’s Throwback Thursday is a man of many talents, a gifted defensive tackle, defensive end, commentator, and philanthropist. Also technically an actor.
Howie Long doesn’t seem like an old-school Raider, does he? Inoffensively funny, unfailingly polite, willing to laugh at basically any bad joke a cohost makes in a desperate attempt to fill time. Clean-cut, non-confrontational, unrelentingly pleasant in that way only broadcasters seem to manage. The guy is a TV teddy bear.
And yet… he’s one of the greatest Raiders of all time. You look at tape of him on the field, and the teddy bear’s transformed into a grizzly. One of the most ferocious attackers the line of scrimmage has ever seen, all strength and speed and fury.
At least, that’s how it looks at first. But as you dig deeper, it gets scarier. He’s not only strength and speed and fury; he’s smarts and strategy, too. Watch the way he targets the line; he knows who to hit when to give himself the best chance of getting loose in the backfield to inflict harm on a quarterback. Watch, too, the way he inflicts that harm; it’s never enough to merely knock the guy down. Nine times out of ten, Long either ragdolls him first or pancakes him underneath his own considerable mass. That aforementioned grizzly bear hunts with the cunning of a particularly sadistic fox, and plays with his prey like Hannibal Lecter’s cat.
So, yeah, that makes Howie Long look a lot more like a Raider.
His accolades don’t hurt, either. 5x All-Pro (including 3x First Team), 8x Pro-Bowler, 1985 Defensive Player of the Year, All 1980s Team, All-Madden Team, Pro Football Weekly’s All-Time 3-4 Defense… the list goes on. As usual, though, that’s more the seasoning than the meal.
So what else was in the meal besides superhero strength and supervillain intelligence? Well, for one thing, there was technical proficiency. Not only could Howie get free with the brute force of a stegosaurus, he also had one of the most fundamentally sound line-games of his era. Of particular note was his signature rip move, executed with a timing and fluidity that even today’s over-trained analytics monsters can’t mimic. Even against All-Pro competition, Howie could get that first low step to their side, and once he did the uppercut and pivot were all but inevitable. Opponents pretty much had to double him, or he was getting through.
But that was only the tip of the iceberg. See, once an opposing line figured out how to kinda/sorta mitigate Howie, whether with a double or, more rarely a superstar single-covering him with help from a chip block, he’d just move somewhere else on the line. Howie could play all four spots on that Raiders front, and the odds of finding an O-line strong enough to deal with him all the way across were basically nil. He forced offenses to adjust their schemes and counter punches over and over throughout a game; that not only resulted in opportunities for Howie, it opened things up for everybody else, leading the Raiders to 249 sacks from ’83-’86, good for best in the league over that run.
Maybe that was the biggest thing; whatever you want to say about Howie’s temperament, then or now, or his babyface persona, or his individual numbers (good-not-great)… he sure seemed to make the Raiders win a lot. They got a Super Bowl during his tenure, and spent a lot of time in the playoffs besides. Howie was the last Oakland Raider left on the team a few years after their move to Los Angeles, but he kept that Oakland spirit, culture, and toughness alive, and that pirate torch burned long past his retirement, long enough for the team to come home to The Town.
So, end of day? Vicious sack-machine who singlehandedly disintegrated opposing offensive lines, played his whole career for the franchise, brought them a Super Bowl, and kept Oakland alive in LA? I don’t care how much he smiles on Sundays, Howie Long is definitely an old-school Raider. I invite anybody who feels differently to say so to his teddy bear face, if they’re so sure the grizzly’s all gone.