Homecoming story: Howie Long likes fit with his son Chris joining Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Pro Football Hall of Famer Howie Long grew up in Charlestown, Massachusetts, later moved to the suburbs to play football at Milford High School, and attended his first NFL game in 1976 when the New England Patriots throttled the Oakland Raiders, 48-17.

Now he has added incentive for a few extra trips home.

When his son Chris signed a one-year contract with the Patriots on March 18, it was a homecoming story of sorts for the Long family.

"It's taken a lot longer than maybe I would have thought, but a Long in a Patriots uniform would look pretty good," he said last week.

Some Patriots fans have pointed to Howie Long as the local kid who got away. He was a second-round draft choice of the Raiders in 1981, selected one pick after New England tabbed running back Tony Collins.

Coming out of Villanova, he played his entire career with the Raiders (1981-93) and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000. He then made the transition to Fox NFL Sunday analyst, where he's sometimes put in the position to comment on Chris, who played the first eight seasons of his career with the Rams after being drafted No. 2 overall in 2008.

One such example came last week with Chris' signing in New England becoming official.

"I've always felt like, in my mind, the way they play, prepare, and go about their business on a day-in, day-out basis, that Chris is a Patriots-type player," he said in an interview with ESPN.com. "I think it's a good marriage, I really do. It's an exciting opportunity for Chris."

While Long's television work on Fox is primarily focused on the NFC based on the network having that broadcast package, he's plenty familiar with the Patriots. The organization's track record of success, combined with his 31-year-old son entering the latter stages of his career, makes it a good fit.

"At this point in his career, why do you play? You play to have an opportunity to win. It's an organization, in the last 15 years they've won 13 divisions and been to six Super Bowls, winning four. They came very close to winning the other two. So if you want to have an opportunity to swing for the fence, and be around like-minded people, they have that in abundance there," he said.

"I have a great deal of respect for so many players on that team, and that staff, and the way they prepare -- the attention to detail, the scheme versatility, and the challenges that presents as a player. Everything you have to do there to be a part of that, he's really excited to do that."

Likewise, those from Long's family who still live in Boston, as well as close friends in Milford such as Mike Sayles, are excited Chris will be playing close his father's roots.

At the same time, the homecoming wasn't the primary draw.

"Listen, if Bill Belichick were coaching in Poland, I think you'd be excited about playing for him," Howie Long said.

Passion for professional sports is palpable among fans in New England, which is something the father can tell the son from first-hand experience.

"Having grown up in that area, and being like every other kid that grows up in that area, it's John Havlicek, it's Bobby Orr, it's Sam Bam Cunningham, it's names and players like that who you kind of live your dreams through," Long said. "Having come from there, I'm very proud of the fact I'm from Boston and continue to be proud of that."

Among the Patriots, Celtics, Bruins and Red Sox, the past 15 years have been filled with world championships. The pursuit of another championship ultimately was what led Long to pick the Patriots over other suitors.

"I know he could have gotten more money in other places. He probably would have been slotted right off the bat, but you go there for less money and you go there knowing you have to earn everything you get, and he's excited about that opportunity with that one goal in mind -- having the opportunity to be there at the end and playing relevant games and having a shot at a championship," Long said.

"As a former player, those are the games that mean something and for me, being part of a world championship team is special and something you never forget. ...He hasn't played in meaningful games [at the end of the year]."

The hope for Long is that changes in 2016, and it starts with a clean bill of health.

"At this point, he's coming off two years where he had a couple of bad-luck injuries -- the ankle injury which required surgery two years ago, and then had the fractured leg last year. They're not things that are related to age, but just kind of freak things that just happened," Long said.

"He's excited about being healthy for the first time in a couple years. I think his success is directly tied to that. If he's healthy, he's hopeful that he'll be able to contribute. He understands it's being a piece to a bigger puzzle."