Football and family go hand in hand for FOX NFL Sunday’s Howie Long

image001.0 - Football and family go hand in hand for FOX NFL Sunday’s Howie LongLily Hernandez, FOX NFL Sunday

Long spoke with SB Nation about his career on and off the field.

Howie Long spent 13 dominant years with the Oakland Raiders, earning eight trips to the Pro Bowl and a Super Bowl XVIII ring. But these days, he may be better known for the 27 years he’s spent behind the desk as an analyst on FOX NFL Sunday.

Long’s first experience in broadcasting came while he was still playing in the NFL, when he hosted a segment called ‘Howie’s Diary’ on Inside the NFL.

“It was so long ago that I actually had to write my copy on a scroll teleprompter,” Long said. “Like an overhead projector. The kind of the kind of pen you would use —it’s not a marker, it’s not a pen, but you get it — the scroll is made out of a certain material that you can wipe off. I would have to write my copy out on that scroll. And then I had the cable — it was just me and the camera, and I had a cable underneath my right leg and I would start it and stop it myself.”

It wasn’t easy to juggle, though, during the season. Injuries and the level of dedication required to play football with the intensity Long played with sometimes made it impossible. Once he retired, when his sons Chris, Kyle, and Howie Jr. were eight, five, and four years old, respectively, Long and his wife Dianne were ready for a change and made the decision to move out of Los Angeles. They purchased an old Georgian mansion in Charlottesville, Virginia, that needed a ton of work.

“Think Money Pit with Tom Hanks,” Long said.

That same week, the opportunity to join NFL on FOX presented itself, and it wasn’t the only one.

“The interesting thing was at that time, I think TBS or TNT had a show,” Long said. “And, you know, I had, to a certain extent, dueling representation. One representative was saying, ‘Go to TNT or TBS for more money,’ and the other was saying, ‘Hey, let’s look at this opportunity at FOX, and FOX just got the rights.’”

David Hill, the former president of FOX Sports, was part of the reason for Long’s decision, and he’s never regretted it.

“David was a really kind of a visionary, and in terms of what he wanted to do with the pregame show and, and the “FOX attitude”, whatever that is, and I think really, in a nutshell, was just to be yourself and not be just a talking head, and he had a vision of a pregame show that would be loose and unrehearsed and live and all of those things and tried out for that show,” Long said.

You still see Hill’s vision at play in the show today, and it’s paid off.

“I don’t remember too many people ever walking up to me over the 27 years and talking about a point that we made about football on the show,” Long said. “But to a man and a woman, everyone that comes up to me and asks about the show, it’s always, ‘Do you guys have as much fun as it seems like you’re having, and do you like one another?’”

The answer is a resounding yes.

“We’re truly close friends,” Jimmy Johnson said. “We’re close enough where we can kid each other even though everybody’s got strong egos. We can kid each other, and nobody’s offended.”

Long said when he first got started on FOX NFL Sunday, he tried to play a role instead of just being himself.

“I think I tried to be a broadcaster, and not that there’s anything wrong with that, but that’s not what they wanted,” Long said. “They wanted personality and they wanted you to be off the cuff and laugh and have fun.”

They certainly do all of those things now, whether it’s Terry serenading the guys or talking about farm animals, or all of them razzing each other, playing harmless pranks, and joking around.

“Jay Glazer and I played a prank where we had an assistant hand out fake lotto tickets as a Christmas gift, and [Howie] won $25k and couldn’t believe it at first,” Michael Strahan said. “As we celebrated the fake win, [Howie] turned and handed it back to the assistant and wished her a merry Christmas. He gave her the ticket without hesitation. Good thing she was in on the joke or Jay and I may have had to pay her.”

But the shenanigans don’t take anything away from Long’s analysis.

“The same work ethic [it took] to make him a Hall of Fame football player, he puts into the television side,” FOX NFL Sunday producer Bill Richardson said. “He studies more than he needs to. I often feel bad, because he will watch as much game film as if he’s calling the game. He’s just a great football mind.”

Bradshaw, the Jerry Lewis to Long’s Dean Martin, said Long is “freaking awesome” as an analyst.

462485860.jpg - Football and family go hand in hand for FOX NFL Sunday’s Howie LongPhoto by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Friars Club

“He’s amazing. He’s articulate, he can remember stuff,” Bradshaw said. “I’m amazed — I tell him all the time, ‘How did you do that? How did you do that?’ Because I can’t do that. I just can’t. I have my own way of doing the show. I can’t do it like that. I don’t know how he remembers all that stuff. But he’s so articulate. He thinks things through very carefully, and he hits his points.”

Strahan agreed.

“When it comes time to get ready for the show, Howie is the one that takes time to himself to really focus and prepare, and I really respect him for that,” Strahan said. “He’s a great writer as well and has the most notes of anyone at the desk. He’s very detail-oriented in the same way he was as a player.”

image001  1  - Football and family go hand in hand for FOX NFL Sunday’s Howie Long

Long’s playing career prepared him to be an analyst

Long came to the Raiders by way of Villanova, and the pre-draft experience for a small school player is vastly different.

Players from bigger programs can just show up for their Pro Day, and scouts from all the teams that have interest in guys from that program show up. That’s that. That was not the case for Long at Villanova.

“I worked out probably 45 times,” Long said.

These were not traditional workouts, either. One scout knocked on Long’s door on a Sunday morning and had him run a 40-yard dash on the lawn outside of the dorm, and that wasn’t even the most unusual workout experience.

“One time it was raining so hard and we didn’t have an indoor facility that was large enough to run a 40-yard dash,” Long said. “And I know this was for Pittsburgh, I know the team that this was for — we ended up having to open the doors up in the corner of the Jake Nevin Gym at Villanova and [I had to] open the doors up, go in the hallway five yards and run catty corner across the gym into the other hallway to get to 40 yards.”

Villanova was a formative experience for Long. He grew academically and socially, and most importantly, he met Dianne, his wife of 38 years, at Villanova.

1093360788.jpg - Football and family go hand in hand for FOX NFL Sunday’s Howie LongPhoto by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Athletically, Long made a name for himself despite excelling in a smaller program. He started every game as a freshman, and he led the team in sacks in his sophomore season. He missed time in his junior year due to a thigh injury, but once again led the team in sacks in his senior season. His college career made enough of an impression on the Oakland Raiders that he got a call informing him the team had drafted him in the second round.

“I looked up Oakland on the map, made my way out there, and the rest is history,” Long said.

1226072174.jpg - Football and family go hand in hand for FOX NFL Sunday’s Howie LongPhoto by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

The NFL, and the world, were very different in 1981. Long made $38,000 in his first season in the league.

“My check was $1,007 after taxes,” Long said. “I had a Coupe DeVille that I bought for $500 from my used car salesman agent. And I was on top of the world really, because it was more money than I’d ever had.”

The Raiders made the move from Oakland to LA after Long’s rookie season, but they still practiced in Oakland.

“Every game was a road game, and I actually had the distinct kind of privilege of having lived in a hotel room with two beds,” Long said. “A single room with two beds, and I roomed with Lyle Alzado for the entire season at the Oakland Airport Hilton.”

If you didn’t have the opportunity to watch Long play in the NFL, there are a couple of players in the league today who are fair comparisons, even though the NFL has changed a lot, as has the style of play.

“The guy I’ve heard is J.J. Watt,” Howie said. “We have different styles from a pass rush standpoint. He’s longer. So he’s more of you know, getting into the weeds here, but he’s more of a pass over guy and I’m more of a straight power guy. The first time I heard that was from Wade Phillips. Wade told me that early on that this kid who he was coaching reminded him of me.”

His son Kyle had the same thought.

“J.J. Watt is my dad’s contemporary comparison because of the fact that he can play on the exterior of the line, he can move in over the guard, he can move up over center,” Kyle said. “He can play left or right side and for the most part, that guy J.J. Watt doesn’t take many plays off. When you go back and look at the old film of my dad, he never left the field.”

But Chris Long disagreed, even though he correctly guessed that his dad and his brother both had compared Howie to Watt. Initially, Chris explained his dad as a beefed up version of his former teammate Michael Bennett.

“I think about Mike as being really quick off the ball, really disruptive, making all his money rushing inside mostly, like my dad was an amazing inside rusher,” Chris said.

But then he called back a few minutes later to add to his answer.

“Aaron Donald. Dude is lightning quick off the ball, but he’s undersized relative to today’s game. And you know, he could play in a four-three and a three-four. Not many D tackles can do that and still be as athletic and have so much pop inside.”

Curt Menefee said he could see the J.J. Watt comparison, because Watt doesn’t take plays off, nor did Howie, and they both play with intensity. But Donald is the more apt comparison, including from a football personality standpoint.

“J.J. is a guy who will smile during the game and have a good time, and you’re probably not going to get into a fight with him,” Menefee said. “Now, Aaron Donald, if you push the wrong button, he could manhandle you and embarrass you really quickly. And I think Howie was kind of the same way, kind of playing on edge at all times and be careful with this guy.”

Strahan agrees.

“[Aaron Donald] is disruptive and plays every play like it’s his last. Just like Howie,” Strahan said.

Sacks weren’t tracked in Long’s rookie season in 1981, but unofficially, he recorded 7.5 sacks that season. Even setting that year aside, Long racked up 84 sacks from 1982 through 1993. Watt and Donald are two of the NFL’s most dominant defensive players, so they both seem like fair comparisons.

Once Long’s Hall of Fame career was over, it freed Howie up to try new things, including acting.

No, Howie Long is not married to Teri Hatcher

Long pieced together an impressive acting career, with roles alongside John Travolta in Broken Arrow, Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner in 3,000 Miles to Graceland, and starred in 1998’s Firestorm. Perhaps his most ubiquitous role was starring alongside Teri Hatcher in many, many Radio Shack commercials.

The pair had good chemistry on screen — good enough that people assumed they were married.

“Unfortunately, everyone thought that Teri Hatcher was my wife,” Long said. “Matter of fact, I would be with my wife, holding my wife’s hand at a football game, and someone would come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I love those commercials you do with your wife.’ My kids almost had shirts made up that said, ‘Teri Hatcher is not my mom.’”

His sons confirmed it.

“I would think people would have like more sense than to be like, okay, presumably he’s with this woman that he appears to be intimate with, like sitting there holding hands or something,” Chris said.

“Early on in Virginia, people would say, ‘Where’s your mom?’ I said, ‘Well, this is my mom right here.’ This was kind of awkward,” Kyle Long said.

“You know, I’m a little surprised my mom didn’t pop anybody over that,” Chris Long said, laughing.

Howie did plenty of other work in commercials, with Chevy and Skechers, and had a budding career as a movie star for a while. Broken Arrow with John Travolta was his first role. When he landed the role, he was expecting to be on set for about two weeks, but director John Woo really liked him.

“I think it was like a $50 million film, which, you know, in today’s dollars would be $150 million,” Long said. “Got on set, had never been on a set before and never acted. And, you know, when John (Woo) walks on the set, it cuts a big hole in the water. He was extremely gracious and always good to me. And John Woo kept coming in my trailer and saying ‘We’ll make you big, like John Wayne.’

“And the next thing I know I’m there for three months. So in a role that was supposed to be killed off early, I ended up being stretched out to close to the end. And I always died. That seems to be a reoccurring theme.”

It’s one his sons haven’t shied away from reminding him about.

“My kids would periodically at one in the morning or something, they knew I was looking at film or whatever, and they would just call up and say as it applied to Firestorm, ‘Smoke jumper, you still alive?’ I mean, just stupid stuff,” Long said.” Or they send me a clip or a meme of me in a movie or something, or the scream [from Broken Arrow]. You know, ‘Christian Slater kicked your ass.’

“I mean, okay, that’s why they call it the movies. That’s acting. Have you seen Christian Slater? He’s a good guy, but he cannot kick my ass.”

Kyle Long said Broken Arrow was his dad’s best role.

“I thought that was probably his best — the film that had the most success was probably Broken Arrow,” Kyle said. “I really enjoyed him in Firestorm because if football wasn’t around, I could honestly see him doing something like that, you know, working as a smokejumper or a park ranger or something like that. He loves the outdoors, loves the Pacific Northwest, and that was probably a fun movie for him. I know that they did a spaghetti western called ‘Dollar for the Dead’. And that was probably a pretty fun thing for him, but I really liked him best with Travolta driving around in a Hummer in the desert, looking for nukes.”

His brother Chris agrees.

“Probably Broken Arrow, him getting kicked out of a train by Christian Slater,” Chris said. “I thought it was cool to see him try something different. He didn’t want to keep going down that path because I think he just took him away too much. He will make light of it like they weren’t box office hits or anything, but to see him take on a lead role and really work at something outside football, you know, retirement’s a crazy time and you’re not sure which direction to go. So to commit something so scary and take a risk, that was cool.”

That was the case, which Long found out the hard way while filming Firestorm outside of Vancouver. He loved shooting it, but they wanted to film during football season, which presented a host of challenges. He had to fly commercial from Vancouver to LA on Friday nights, go through customs, be at Saturday’s production meeting, shoot the show on Sundays, and then get right back up to Vancouver for another week of shooting.

“I would do our show on Sunday and catch a flight up to Vancouver and get to bed at 11 o’clock, 11:30, and I was up at six in the morning, 5:30 in the morning, to be on the set at 7 a.m. And I would shoot all day, every day for five days of the week,” Long said. “So I was doing seven days a week between Vancouver and LA, and my family was in Charlottesville. And my kids were you know, ages X, Y and Z and dad wasn’t home, and I wasn’t home for three, four months.”

That was a lot for Dianne to carry on her own, and it didn’t feel right to Howie, who wanted more than anything to be a good husband and father. His own father spent his life from birth until he was 18 years old in an orphanage. At that time, they’d give kids a choice of either staying in the orphanage until age 21 or entering the military. Long’s dad was 6’7, and the military wouldn’t accept someone that tall.

“For lack of a better way of putting it, you’re a moving target [at that height],” Long said. “So he was in the Alaskan ski patrol. And so my dad, the older I get, the more perspective I have. My dad had no frame of reference for family or what it was all about.”

That’s not the case for Howie, and one of the best things about his role on FOX NFL Sunday is that it’s allowed him to also be an involved, loving husband and father.

Family matters most to Howie Long

When Long’s sons started playing high school football, he was presented with a challenge — making it to Los Angeles for Saturday’s production meeting for FOX NFL Sunday.

“So he said, ‘Hey, is there any way we can start showing up early on Sunday and not have a Saturday meeting — showing up early on Sunday?’ And the producer at the time said, ‘Yeah, we’ll try that for you, Howie. But if anybody’s late to that early, early Sunday meeting, then we’re going to go back to the old way it was,’” Bill Richardson said. “So Howie, you know he’s the most responsible guy in the world. He wasn’t worried about himself, but he started picking up Terry every morning to make sure he got to the meeting on time.”

It makes sense, seeing as how Terry is also like family to Howie, and vice versa.

“Terry is “Uncle Terry,” and he’s almost like the dysfunctional uncle you’re afraid to leave the kids with, but he loves the heck out of them,” Long said.

That led to some special moments, like Howie being able to hold his grandson in his lap while watching Terry interview Chris after his Eagles won the NFC Championship and punched their ticket to Super Bowl LII.

“Terry has known the kids — has known Chris since he was eight years old had been a big part of his high school career and his college career and his pro career, and same thing with Kyle, and same thing with young Howie, who played college lacrosse and now works with the Raiders,” Long said. “So it truly is a family, and when I tell you it’s rare that when something good happens to you they’re as happy for you as you are, which is really amazing.”

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When Chris and Kyle Long were both still playing in the NFL, Howie used to watch each son’s opponent’s last three games and gave his boys notes.

“It was therapeutic for me more than anything,” Long said. “I don’t how much of those notes they actually looked at or absorbed. I think they just kind of said, ‘Hey, thanks a bunch,’ and that was just them being nice.”

But their dad’s efforts meant a lot to Chris and Kyle.

“The coolest part of having a dad who played 13 years in the league was just the understanding, and so when I get notes, it would make me feel good if it corroborated something that I was onto during the week,” Chris said. “And you know, now I’ve got a position coach, I got my dad, I got my teammates — I have an extra resource that most guys don’t have a really unique one, you know, one that you can trust.”

Kyle said that both Howie and Dianne, who traveled to see her sons play every single week before they retired, just wanted to make sure their kids were set up to succeed.

“There’s nothing as intimidating as playing the NFL,” Kyle said. “I can’t think of another sport that I’ve played from a mental, physical, emotional standpoint, that really takes its toll on you like that. And you can use allies. They’re welcomed, wherever you can get them, and when your dad is as well versed in the game of football as mine is, it’s priceless to be able to get his input.”

That family atmosphere at FOX was also evident when Jimmy Johnson learned during a postseason broadcast that he would be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

But as happy as Long was for Jimmy, he was afraid Jimmy might not make it through the experience.

“Jimmy has an inhaler in his pocket, actually — most people don’t know that,” Long said. “That’s one of the reasons why Jimmy’s back doing the show remotely during the pandemic, which we’re all happy about. He started to lose his breath. And I know how much it meant to him, and it was something that needed to be done, should have been done. Finally, it was done, and the way it was done was totally unusual, but it was also unique and magical. His reaction was genuine.

“But I actually thought he was going to drop on set, and I was trying to figure out how am I going to get in his pocket and score his inhaler and keep him from blacking out.”

Being able to share that moment with Jimmy (without Jimmy having an asthma attack) carried the same meaning for all of the other guys on the show.

“I’ll tell you why that moment was so great,” FOX NFL Sunday producer Bill Richardson said. “If you almost took Jimmy out of it, it’s the other guys and how happy they are for Jimmy. Yes. Howie was so happy, Terry was — all the guys told me they were happier for that moment that when they found out [about their own Hall of Fame inductions].”

The support and family-like atmosphere at FOX NFL Sunday has let Howie fulfill his own dream of being the best husband and dad he can be. His sons Kyle and Chris both emphasized that their dad is an important part of their lives not just as a father, but as a friend.

“I want people to understand that my dad is as important a person from a friend standpoint in our lives as he is a dad,” Kyle said. “He’s a guy I can call at one in the morning and have tough questions for him, and he doesn’t necessarily have to talk to me like a dad. He can talk to me like a best friend.”

That’s been especially important to Howie’s sons as they face their own retirement from the NFL.

“Through this transition from getting out of the league, which is tough on everybody, regardless of what they say, we all go through it,” Kyle said. “And he was somebody that was there for me, as well as my older brother, and I just really appreciate him.”

Chris agreed.

“The guy’s one of my best friends,” Chris said. “He’s just always been a dad who makes sure everything’s normal. He’s just my dad, and what he did for a living doesn’t make him a big deal. He’s a humble dude, and he’s a great friend.”

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