It took her some time to finally understand this strange, moody young giant she was so attached to. "He didn't send me a Valentine's Day card when we first started going together. That upset me, and I told him so," she says. "Then he explained how holidays never meant anything special to him. At Villanova when everyone went home for the holidays or the summer he was always the guy who stayed in the dorms. You know how a child's bed is special to him? Well, he never had his own. It was always a couch or something, while he was bouncing around from relative to relative. He was always living out of a suitcase, he always had his possessions on him. It took me awhile to understand that."
NFL scouts who came to test Long after his senior year saw another side of his character: He was always willing to work out, to run, to test—at any hour of the day or night.
"The Patriots worked me out in the snow," he says. "They plowed the field. I ran 40s and 20s, did a vertical jump. I asked the guy for a pair of turf shoes. He gave me a Patriots key ring. I kept it. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world."
He was rated as a third-or fourth-round draft choice, but after the Blue-Gray game his stock rose. The Raiders sent their defensive line coach, Earl Leggett, to Villanova to work him out. "Earl had me set a couple of times and plant and come upheld 20 yards, and then he left," Long said. "I thought, Well, that's one team I can forget about, and I went up to my room and watched Leave It to Beaver."
"I had seen his Blue-Gray films," Leggett recalls, "and we knew he'd run a 4.75 forty, but when you got around him you could feel the damn power and energy. You could just feel the brute strength."
Long finished his college career at 251 pounds. When he showed up at the Raiders' first minicamp he weighed 297, "just a biscuit away from 300," he says. "I thought everyone had to weigh 290 in the NFL. Earl looked at me and said, 'What happened to the guy I drafted?' "
When the regular camp opened, Long found himself across the line from Art Shell. "It was the first pit drill," he says. "I had checked out the line, and I saw that Matuszak was going against Lawrence, and Kinlaw against Dalby and Dave Browning against Shell, and I was going to get Lindsey Mason. I was getting ready for Mason when Shell came up and Earl said, 'Browning, step out of there, I want to see Long against him.' I thought. He's going to kill me. And he almost did. He hit me so hard he split the top of my right cheekbone and at the same time gave me the fists in the stomach. It was the most devastating pop I ever got in the NFL. My cheekbone still lumps up every year in training camp in the same spot."
In 1981 he was 21, the second-youngest rookie in the NFL, Houston corner-back Bill Kay edging him by four days. "Howie was the greenest of the green," Leggett says. "He didn't know nothing about playing the game." Leggett called him "My pro from Villanowhere." Each scrimmage, each game, became a death struggle. Eventually, all of Long's fears crystallized into one overwhelming urge to get the guy opposite him before he could deliver another dose of the Artie Shell treatment.
The rookies gave Long the nickname Caveman. The veterans were amused by him, by his intensity. What the hell, we're the Raiders. We've seen all types. "I didn't know what to make of them," Long says. "I remember going into a bar in Santa Rosa, where we trained—the Bamboo Room it was called—and Ted Hendricks was sitting on a stool and next to him was this life-size blowup doll. He said, 'Howie, meet Molly. Molly's my date tonight.' "
The Raiders would use Long in pass-rush situations as a tackle in the nickel defense. He remembers the Patriots' John Hannah and the Chargers' Ed White taking him to school. Mike Webster of the Steelers put him on his back on the first play, and Doug Wilkerson of the Chargers "did tricks with me." But the intensity was always there. And in the fourth quarter, when things started to sag a little, Long would come on strong. He got his sacks and he wound up leading the team as a rookie.