If a recently retired NFL player were to transition into a media career, no one would be surprised. Existing players host their own podcasts or serve as contributors to broadcasts across the network.
But once upon a time—which, in this case, was 1994—hardly any former NFL player made the immediate jump from wearing shoulder pads to carrying a microphone.
Howie Long opened the pipeline by joining the fledgling FOX studio show just as the network acquired the rights to the NFL. Twenty-nine years later, Long’s second professional work endeared him to another demographic of fans who can’t remember his massive physique terrorizing the backcourts for 13 seasons with the Raiders from 1981-1993.
The Hall of Famer said the decision to retire at 34 took him by surprise. But he knew it then and his life proved him right: It was time to move on.
“I’m not sure I would have settled for being normal,” Long told USA TODAY Sports by phone last month.
Long feels the same way about his broadcasting career.
“You want to make sure that you’re contributing to the very high level of our show,” Long said. “You want to make sure you live up to that.”
In addition to the fact that Long has three years left on his deal with FOX, the good news for fans who enjoy watching Long is that he won’t be off screen anytime in the near future.
Of his time at FOX, Long said, “I started laughing 29 years ago, and I haven’t stopped.”
“We all grow old together”
Long’s main comedic relief over the past three decades has been Terry Bradshaw, a Hall of Famer for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Along with former head coach Jimmy Johnson, Long and Bradshaw have been with “FOX NFL Sunday” since the show’s inception. (Johnson left to coach the Miami Dolphins for four seasons in the 1990s, making Long and Bradshaw the show’s longest-serving members.)
“We’re all aging together,” said Long, 63, while noting that they exist in a form of “perpetual adolescence.”
On the show, Bradshaw is a bellows. Johnson gestures. Michael Strahan, former New York Giants defensive end turned morning TV host, vocals. Host Curt Menefee does his best to get it all together.
The real glue is Long, said Bill Richards, coordinating producer of “FOX NFL Sunday.” He’s not a stand-up comedian or host. A healthy part of the actual football analysis on the show are Long’s thoughts, which he meticulously organized throughout the week with the help of a yellow highlighter.
Bradshaw said he would break his mate’s pieces to write the notes. In fact, Long often covers up Bradshaw’s unpreparedness.
“For him to share that with me is the absolute act of kindness,” Bradshaw told USA TODAY Sports. “Let me pick you up.” I can’t even tell you how amazing he is as a broadcaster.”
Richards said Long is vying with Johnson for the most watched football award of the week. When it comes to memory and recollection, Bradshaw said Long has the greatest he’s ever seen.
“He could look at something and beat it the first time,” Bradshaw said. “That’s impressive to me. His vision of how the game should be played – no one can match it.”
According to Long’s wife, Diane, the fear of failure is what motivates him, even after nearly three decades on the air. Along the way, he became someone his colleagues gravitated towards while “nothing was going through his head,” Richards said.
“He’s literally one of the best human beings I know,” said Richards.
The children are following in my father’s footsteps
All three of Long’s children were under the age of ten when he retired and took up broadcasting. Now they have families of their own.
“You’re trying to pass that on to your kids,” Long said. “Time flies by. I’m looking at our grandchildren and granddaughter… They’ll be pulling down the aisle soon.”
Speaking of those kids, the sons who have followed in his NFL footsteps—Chris, a two-time defensive Super Bowl champion who played for the Rams, Eagles and Patriots; and Kyle, an offensive lineman for the Chicago Bears—they took another page from the old man’s book and embarked on their own media endeavours. (His third son, Howie Jr., is also in professional football as a premium sales executive for the Las Vegas Raiders.)
“They grew up around the group,” said Long.
Chris Long, the second pick in the 2008 draft, started his podcast “Green Light with Chris Long”. Kyle Long, a first-round pick by the Bears in 2013 who retired for the second time after the 2021 season, is a studio analyst for “That Other Pregame Show” on CBS Sports.
Their parents say Chris and Kyle’s post-play jobs aren’t surprising. The medium each son chooses says a lot about her, too. Chris is a deep thinker who wants to be in control of his content from start to finish. Howie Long said Kyle is an analyst who “turns on the lights, let’s get started”.
“It was fun to watch,” said Long, who was seated in the front row to Chris’s Super Bowl victory with the New England Patriots.
Just as he made a conscious effort not to push his sons towards football, Long wasn’t much involved in his sons becoming broadcasters other than the fact that that’s what they saw him do.
While his sons played on Sundays, Long had a unique perspective on the game. And a lot of tension inside his body.
“If you go back and watch any of those shows, you can see how powerful it is,” said Diane Long. “He’s trying to be a duck above water, and he looks totally calm. But below, you can see some of his body language where he’s tense as hell watching them.”
You don’t have to worry about that anymore Howie Long. He can return to his core concern and the best way to stay above the constant hustle and bustle that surrounds him in the group.
“He respects the NFL and I think a lot of us should have him,” Bradshaw said. “I look at football and TV as entertainment. He looks at it from an intelligent point of view and I like that a lot. I respect that.”
Follow Chris Bombaka on Twitter @employee.