Howie Long may have spent only one of his 13 Hall of Fame seasons in Oakland -- the other 12 years were when the Raiders called Los Angeles home -- but he still keeps tabs on the East Bay goings-on by his old team, and likes what he’s seen thus far this offseason.
I caught up with Long on the phone Wednesday for my upcoming book, “100 Things Raiders Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die,” and I also got the eight-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman’s take on current issues surrounding Oakland.
His eldest son, Chris, was the No. 2 overall pick of the 2008 NFL draft and is a standout defensive end with the St. Louis Rams, while his middle son, Kyle, was named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie right guard last season with the Chicago Bears. His youngest, Howie Jr., works in football operations for the Oakland Raiders.
So, yeah, Long feels a certain kinship with Raiders owner Mark Davis.
“I’m really happy for Mark,” said Long, who is a longtime NFL host on Fox. “Having sons that are following a famous dad, I understand some of the pressures that we are under and he is under. He’s smart enough to understand the history [of the franchise], but he’s also smart enough to know what he doesn’t know. He wants to put the team in the best position to succeed. We had dug ourselves a big hole.”
Yes, Long said “we” and was referring to the salary-cap hell faced by his former teammate, general manager Reggie McKenzie, as well as a dearth of draft picks. Long said the Raiders had to take “four steps back just to get even” over the past few years.
And with Oakland going out and signing a cast of veterans who may have already seen their best days but still seemingly have something left in the tank, Long sees a certain similarity to the Raiders’ halcyon days when they found the likes of Ted Hendricks, John Matuszak, Jim Plunkett and Lyle Alzado.
“But you build through the draft. Would they have liked to have gotten that big receiver? Sure. But I don’t think they could have scripted it any better. To get [Khalil] Mack and then the quarterback [Derek Carr] in the second round? Wow, that kid throws a good ball.”
And after saying the Raiders’ offensive line and quarterback situations were “all over the place” last season, Long added, “now, it’s stable.
“I really like the direction we’re heading. We’ve got to get a stadium, though. That’s paramount. That’s paramount to success. Playing half your games on a baseball field? That was fine in 1981, when a number of teams were doing it.”
Long laughed. Oakland is the lone team in the 32-team NFL to share a stadium with a Major League Baseball team. In Long’s rookie season of 1981, 15 of the NFL’s then-28 teams shared a stadium with an MLB franchise.
Long, whose 84 sacks rank second in franchise history to Greg Townsend’s 107.5, even as the sack did not become an official statistic until Long’s second season, also had a challenge for current Raiders players.
“You want to be rich? You want to be famous? Win in that uniform,” he said. “That brand is as good as it gets.
“I’m a Raider for life, and I don’t apologize for it. That may be hard for some people to understand. But that’s how it is.”
— Paul Gutierrez (@PGutierrezESPN) May 1, 2014