The 2011 Hall of Fame finalists have been announced and on February 5th the Hall’s selection committee will vote on this year's class.
I had the opportunity to speak with Howie Long, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Super Bowl Champion and one of the greatest Oakland Raiders of all time.
We talked about the possibility of the Raiders going back to Los Angeles and the upcoming season for the Raiders. We also discussed the Raider greats who haven't been inducted into the Hall of Fame. A lot of fans will also be surprised to read what Long had to say about Al Davis.
Long also talked about how fans can voice their opinions by voting for who they think should be in the Hall of Fame.
B/R: Howie, tell me a little bit about Fanschoice.com?
Howie: This is the second year in a row that the Hall of Fame has partnered up with Van Heusen and JC Penny, and what is does is it gives fans an opportunity to cast their vote for who they believe should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2011. Visit the Fan's Choice Website. Voting ends on 11:59 PM on Friday, and the announcement of the fan's choice will be announced Live on the NFL Network at 6 pm Central Time and 7 pm Eastern Time during the Hall of Fame announcement show.
B/R: Why do you think it’s important for fans to participate?
Howie: I think it’s important for fans to be involved in all aspects of the game. We saw the league certainly make that move towards involving fans with pro bowl voting, I’m not sure that fan voting will ever be a part of the Hall of Fame, but it is always interesting to get the perspective of the fans.
B/R: Raider fans, there are some Raider greats that need more votes.
Make sure you visit http://www.fanschoice.com/ and make sure you give former Raider greats the votes they need.
B/R: Many players come and go through the NFL, and only a select few are named to the Hall of Fame. What advice do you give to players that want to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame one day?
Howie: Well, I don’t think you think of the Hall of Fame as a young player. That’s a space shuttle mission to Mars when you’re 21 years old . . . I had the good fortune of being around guys who were Hall of Famers and soon to be Hall of Famers, Fred Biletnikoff, and you're around Jim Otto, around Ted Hendricks, Art Shell and Gene Upshaw and all of those players. There was never talk of the Hall of Fame. Towards the end of my career Willie Brown would say, “You gotta get you one of these,” meaning the Hall of Fame ring.
Really everything was geared towards being the best possible player that you could be for your football team and having a shot to win a Super Bowl . . . that was really the driving force. You never really think about it as a young player. But certainly when you’re done playing then conversation begins for the pundits to evaluate how great a player you were, what impact you had on your football team and the NFL. If you are fortunate enough to be considered and make it in that room and go through the voting process and if you get that phone call, it’s a special call.
B/R: Being a former Raider, what are your thoughts on Jim Plunkett, Ray Guy and other Raider greats not being inducted into the Hall of Fame yet?
Howie: Yea, you know I’m a little bit surprised.
You take it a step further to Tom Flores, who won two Super Bowl championships and there are other coaches in who haven’t won the Super Bowl championships. Tom won two championships in two different decades with essentially two different football teams, which I think is remarkable.
Lester Hayes, Lester is a guy who is deserving of Hall of Fame consideration.
Certainly Ray Guy, I think who kind of pioneered that part of the game and was the first really dominant punter who impacted the game.
Jim Plunkett winning two Super Bowls in spectacular form and played really big in big games. I think he has the 2nd or 3rd highest winning percentage in the playoffs. I think there are number of guys who are worthy . . . to be considered.
B/R: How can a player like Nnamdi Asomugha get inducted into the hall of fame when his stats aren’t great, but his play on the field is tremendous?
Howie: Ya, that cornerback position is a funny position.
Darrelle Revis, I’m not sure if he had one or two interceptions this year. When you are that kind of a corner, when you are a Mike Haynes kind of corner, when you are a Deion Sanders kind of corner, when you’re a Nnamdi Asomugha kind of corner or Darrelle Revis, you’re not going to get a lot of action your way. Teams are smart and they game plan. They opt to stay away, you can eliminate a corner like that by just not throwing at them. I think the numbers at the end of the day can be a bit misleading.
For example, Ben Roethlisberger vs the Jets. Just to give you an example. If you look at Ben’s stat sheet vs the Jets in the playoffs, Not a great stat sheet. But if you watch the game you understand what an extraordinary impact he had on the football game. So I think stats in many ways can be misleading.
B/R: You hear a lot about Al Davis and the Raiders today, how was your experience as a Raider?
Howie: Well you know the Raiders drafted me out of Villanova in the second round. I think a lot of people were surprised by the pick. The Raiders had . . . a number of good players from small schools. Art Shell played at Maryland Eastern Shore, Gene Upshaw played at a small school, Mark Van Eeghen played at an Ivy League school. Their ability to find players from obscure programs I think is great.
I think for me, I’m not sure that I would have been the player that I ended up becoming if I hadn't gone to the Raiders for a couple reasons. One, I think as an organization their patience with young players, that starts with the owner and trickles down to the coaching staff.
For me to have the kind of defensive line coach that I had with Earl Leggett. We had some great groups upfront with Greg Townsend, Sean Jones, Lyle Alzado and Bill Pickel. You know we were fortunate enough to have enough talent around us to be what I considered to be a dominant front.
My experience with the Raiders was great. I couldn’t imagine playing for an owner who is more consumed with winning than Al Davis.
B/R: Hue Jackson says often that Al Davis still knows a lot about football. (Howie lets out a confirming “Oh!”) Could you explain his knowledge of the game?
Howie: Well you know there’s not an owner in football who knows the X’s and O’s of football like Al Davis. I think a lot of people don’t even realize this but Al coached the team to the single biggest turnaround at that point in NFL history. Then [he] moved to the front office and took over as managing general partner of the team and running the football team. He built teams that have been in Super Bowls in four different decades and won three Super Bowls. But to have teams that have played in Super Bowls in four different decades is amazing accomplishment.
B/R: What are your thoughts on new head coach Hue Jackson?
Howie: You know, I like what they were doing on offense last year, and obviously Al liked what they were doing on offense.
I was a bit surprised by the move, not necessarily to move to Hue Jackson, but the move in general. You know 'cause the Raiders made the kind of what I thought was the “turn the corner year” sweeping the division, and now the next move is having success outside the division. With any football team it starts with your division, they have that part of it down.
Now they have to expand on that but I like what they were doing last year. I like what I saw last year. Hopefully they can get some players in through free agency—if there is a free agency, I don’t know what's going to happen here—and through the draft and build on that. I think they will be a team that is a playoff contender next year.
B/R: What do the Raiders need to do to become a playoff contender next year?
Howie: I think you need more stability at the quarterback position. I think (Jason) Campbell has to be more consistent. He has a big arm, and has the ability to stretch the field is there. I think the young wide receivers, particularly the speedy wide receivers, have to continue to evolve. I think Jacoby Ford was a pleasant surprise and they’re loaded at the running back position.
The offensive line to me, particularly the young guys were a big reason for the turn around and that’s something to build off. If you can run the football the way they ran they football, you should be successful at quarterback. And if you’re successful at quarterback and you’re successful running the football, in turn that has a ripple effect on your defense, and your defense has an opportunity to play with the lead and play field position and it should benefit the team.
B/R: How important was it for Darren McFadden to have the year that he did after his first two years where he struggled with injuries, and after the release of JaMarcus Russell who was picked the year before?
Howie: Well I think anytime you miss on a quarterback that high it can set your organization back 3 or 4 years. There was a lot of controversy while JaMarcus was there for whatever reason, it didn’t work out. Some questioned his commitment, his preparation and his leadership.
I think it was really important for Darren who was banged up in his first two seasons to have the kind of year that he had. To me he looked a lot like the back we saw in Arkansas. I think there is a direct correlation to his health. Him being healthy, their offensive line playing better gave him the opportunity to be successful. But he looked powerful, he looked fast, he had a great burst. All the things you saw coming out of Arkansas you saw there.
B/R: I was asked by a lot of people on Twitter if you’d ever consider being a coach in the league?
Howie: You know people have talked to me about that. I think I poured so much into the 13 years. And having three sons and having raised three sons, they have to sacrifice a lot because of your commitment to the game and to your team.
My life, it gives me now as a broadcaster, has given me an opportunity to do a number of things that I wouldn't be able to do as a coach at the professional level. I coached high school football for seven years. I coached little league baseball for seven years. I coached all my boys in high school. If I were a coach I wouldn’t have the ability to do those things. And now with them out of the house, you know my wife has been waiting about 28 years, 30 years to do some traveling. So we’re planning on doing that.
B/R: Speaking of your boys, you have a son in the NFL, tell us about that?
Howie: You know what, I’m very proud of him. He’s a hard working guy who is 100% responsible for his success. He is a great guy, he gets it. He’s someone that I am extremely proud of more as a person than I am as a player and I thought he had a great year.
B/R: There was recent announcement that Farmers Insurance has bought the naming rights to a football stadium in Los Angeles? Do you see the Raiders and Los Angeles being a good fit again?
Howie: Well I think there is still a great fan base down there. I’m not sure of all the parties involved and all the politics of it . I’m not sure from an NFL standpoint or an ownership standpoint whether the league would sign off on that. I really have no idea. If the team is good I think they’d be successful particularly in a new venue. I like that downtown area, I think that downtown area is spectacular. But I’m hopeful they can build a stadium up in Oakland and get a state of the art stadium.
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