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The Raiders' reputation as intimidators took some lumps last year. Chicago outplayed them. Pittsburgh and Seattle ran the ball on them. Long sighs and admits, "Things were bad. Injuries, mistakes, some people just didn't play well."
Three weeks before the end of the season Long was wondering if he would have a shot at the Pro Bowl. His sacks were down, thanks to the double-team attention he was getting, but the statistics didn't show holding penalties by opponents, and the Raiders figure that Long and the Bucs' Lee Roy Selmon led the league in that category.
"I won't have the sacks of a Mark Gastineau," Long says, "and I won't get all those pursuit tackles. Our responsibilities are different. He's allowed to free-lance all over the field. I have back-side responsibility. I have to play the reverses and cutbacks. Let me know when Gastineau decides to play the run."
Al Davis, the Raiders' managing general partner, feels that Long is a player with "superstar qualities and room for improvement." Long says he'll dedicate the 1985 season to zeroing in more accurately on quarterbacks. "I came in too high a lot of times," he says. "They'd duck, and I'd miss."
The Raiders acknowledged Long's worth when they rewrote his contract after he staged a four-day holdout last July. They eventually gave him $3 million for four years, none of it deferred, a package that is the best in the NFL in terms of real money for a defensive lineman.
It's always a shock when people meet Long for the first time. Last winter his uncle John, the ex-cop who's now the driver and bodyguard for the agent Bob Woolf, took Long to meet Woolf. They talked for a while and finally Woolf said, "You know I don't know how to say this, but you're...well, you're really not like I expected you to be...you're...."
"Civilized," Long said.
"That's it," said Woolf.
"It happens all the time," Long said later. "I always spend the first five minutes convincing people I'm really Howie Long. They say, 'No, you're not. He's much meaner looking.' They figure I should be wearing a torn black jersey, going around raping and pillaging."
The Boys and Girls Club of Boston sees a very private side of him. He has come back and spoken to the group twice. This fall he will treat 50 of the kids to tickets to the Raiders-Patriots game in Foxboro. "What I would have given if someone would have done that for me when I was a kid," he says. It's a simple matter. You've gotten something from life, you give something back.