He started the last five games of the strike year, 1982, and by 1983 he was a regular. He began following Leggett around like a puppy. The players called him Howie Leggett. Lyle Alzado arrived from Cleveland with plenty of giddap left in his aging legs and a willingness to share 11 NFL seasons' worth of knowledge with the young lineman. The club decided that Alzado should room with Long. "Lyle would bring a piece of chocolate cake and a glass of milk up to the room at 8:30, and at nine o'clock it was lights-out and the TV off," Long says. "I thought. Oh my God, I'm back with my uncle Billy again. I'd get a roll-away cot and sneak over to Calvin Peterson and Marcus Allen's room and watch TV.
"In the huddle Alzado was our leader, no question about it," Long says. "Still is. We say that Lyle will never retire. Eventually we'll prop him up on a horse and sew his eyelids open and he'll play forever. He'll be our El Cid...."
In his last two All-Pro years Long has become the Raiders' strongman on the defensive line, controlling the run and exerting pressure from the left end spot or as a tackle in the four-man pass rush. The night before a game he locks himself in his room with two cheeseburgers, a dozen iced teas and two reels of film. "If I don't look at films the night before, I feel naked the next day," he says.
He has mastered lots of subtle tricks of the trade—for example: "One thing I learned is never bend over in the defensive huddle. Stay up high and watch the other team's sideline, especially if the quarterback is over there talking to the coach. There's always that moment when he leaves him and starts back to the huddle and then forgets something and goes back. If you watch their lips, that's when you might pick something off."
Long's basic move off the line is devastating—it is the rip, an uppercut designed to break the opponent's grip and stop all forms of hand-to-hand combat. The hand fighters, he says, simply waste too much time. To counter Long's move, offenses use the tackle to set him up and then have the tight end crack down on his legs. That's where the trouble usually starts, setting off one of "the 80 or so fights I've had in the NFL," which have earned Long a reputation as a wild man.
"A lot of teams do it, but Kansas City is the worst," he says. "Willie Scott, their tight end, almost maimed me last year, and a big fight started. I told him. 'It might be legal, but do it again and I'll come down with my three-quarter-inch spikes and rip your ribs off.' That's the Catholic in me. Warn 'em first. Hey, look, I can't be responsible for what I do."
A few minilegends have already sprung up about Long. There was the time he went into the Seattle offensive huddle during a time-out and said to the trainer, "Give me that water. They don't need it. They're not doing anything."
"A few guys in the huddle laughed, guys that I know," Long says. "Ken Easley reminded me of it at the last Pro Bowl. He loved it."
There was the time Long screamed at Chicago guard Kurt Becker: "I'm going to get you in the parking lot after the game and beat you up in front of your family!"
"Yeah, I said it," Long says. "He'd spent the day flying over the pile and hitting defensive backs late. He was my target for the game, but I had missed him and sprained my back, so I was upset. Everyone has their favorite threat, and that's mine. Lyle's is 'I'll kill you and everything you love.' "