Oakland Raiders: Greg Townsend

Howie Long may have spent only one of his 13 Hall of Fame seasons in Oakland -- the other 12 years were when the Raiders called Los Angeles home -- but he still keeps tabs on the East Bay goings-on by his old team, and likes what he’s seen thus far this offseason.

I caught up with Long on the phone Wednesday for my upcoming book, “100 Things Raiders Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die,” and I also got the eight-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman’s take on current issues surrounding Oakland.

His eldest son, Chris, was the No. 2 overall pick of the 2008 NFL draft and is a standout defensive end with the St. Louis Rams, while his middle son, Kyle, was named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie right guard last season with the Chicago Bears. His youngest, Howie Jr., works in football operations for the Oakland Raiders.

So, yeah, Long feels a certain kinship with Raiders owner Mark Davis.

“I’m really happy for Mark,” said Long, who is a longtime NFL host on Fox. “Having sons that are following a famous dad, I understand some of the pressures that we are under and he is under. He’s smart enough to understand the history [of the franchise], but he’s also smart enough to know what he doesn’t know. He wants to put the team in the best position to succeed. We had dug ourselves a big hole.”

Yes, Long said “we” and was referring to the salary-cap hell faced by his former teammate, general manager Reggie McKenzie, as well as a dearth of draft picks. Long said the Raiders had to take “four steps back just to get even” over the past few years.

And with Oakland going out and signing a cast of veterans who may have already seen their best days but still seemingly have something left in the tank, Long sees a certain similarity to the Raiders’ halcyon days when they found the likes of Ted Hendricks, John Matuszak, Jim Plunkett and Lyle Alzado.

“At a good price,” Long said of the current Raiders’ relatively cheap signings of Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, Antonio Smith and James Jones.

“But you build through the draft. Would they have liked to have gotten that big receiver? Sure. But I don’t think they could have scripted it any better. To get [Khalil] Mack and then the quarterback [Derek Carr] in the second round? Wow, that kid throws a good ball.”

And after saying the Raiders’ offensive line and quarterback situations were “all over the place” last season, Long added, “now, it’s stable.

“I really like the direction we’re heading. We’ve got to get a stadium, though. That’s paramount. That’s paramount to success. Playing half your games on a baseball field? That was fine in 1981, when a number of teams were doing it.”

Long laughed. Oakland is the lone team in the 32-team NFL to share a stadium with a Major League Baseball team. In Long’s rookie season of 1981, 15 of the NFL’s then-28 teams shared a stadium with an MLB franchise.

Long, whose 84 sacks rank second in franchise history to Greg Townsend’s 107.5, even as the sack did not become an official statistic until Long’s second season, also had a challenge for current Raiders players.

“You want to be rich? You want to be famous? Win in that uniform,” he said. “That brand is as good as it gets.

“I’m a Raider for life, and I don’t apologize for it. That may be hard for some people to understand. But that’s how it is.”

With the new generation of Oakland Raiders preparing to take the field for their first rookie minicamp beginning Friday, what better time than #ThrowbackThursday to take a look at some pictures I took back in the proverbial day and posted on my Twitter timeline -- @PGutierrezESPN.

Our countdown of the best Oakland Raiders draft picks since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger continues with defensive end Howie Long checking in at No. 2.

Howie Long (Villanova, second round, No. 48 overall, 1981)

The Raiders had just won Super Bowl XV, thumping the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-10, and used a pair of first-round draft picks on Ted Watts and Curt Marsh when their second-round slot came up.

They used it on one Howard Matthew Moses Long out of Villanova, which was not exactly a football factory, and the way linebacker Matt Millen saw it, the Raiders wasted the pick.

Wait, what? Why?

“I was white,” Long laughingly told Ice Cube in an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary on the Los Angeles Raiders.

And yet ...

“Howie was,” Marcus Allen told NFL Films, “I always say he was one of the toughest white guys I’ve ever seen in my life, man.”

Allen then laughed nervously.

Truly, though, the only thing funny about Long in his 13-year Hall of Fame career was his solo on the Raiders’ so-bad-it-was-good rap song “The Silver and Black Attack” in 1986.

This Long’s not short

On quarterback sacks,

And I love to sit

On those running backs

Got it? Good. Because it’s good he kept his day job, that of one of the best defensive ends of his era, if not all time. The 6-foot-5, 268-pound Long epitomized the ferocious Raiders defense of the early and mid-1980s.

While the sack was not recognized as an official statistic until 1982, his second season, Long finished his career with 84 sacks, along with two interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries in 179 games.

From 1983 through 1985, Long had 35 combined sacks, with 13 coming in the Raiders' Super Bowl championship season of 1983.

His 84 sacks rank second in franchise history to Greg Townsend’s 107.5.

Perhaps most impressive about Long, though, was his versatility, as he could play anywhere on the Raiders’ defensive line in their then-3-4 alignment, and play well. And no doubt his taking on so many double-teams helped free up the likes of Townsend, who was a beast in his own right.

Long was named to eight Pro Bowls and twice was an All-Pro selection. And yet, he never felt satisfied on the field. His hard-knock-life upbringing in Boston -- he’s a “Townie” -- kept him grounded but fearful.

That drive is what made him excel on the field, as well as drove him to Canton in 2000, his second year of eligibility. Long was still in good enough shape after picking up his yellow jacket that Al Davis wanted him to return to the Raiders at age 40.

Long admitted to contemplating it before reality set in.

“Then I said, ‘You’re crazy,’” Long told NFL Films. “‘You’re out of your mind.’”

Long’s legacy, then, was safe.

Top 5-plus Raiders draft picks since 1970 merger

Honorable mentions

No. 5: WR Cliff Branch

No. 4: P Ray Guy

No. 3: TE Dave Casper

No. 2: DE Howie Long

No. 1: ?
Our countdown of the worst Oakland Raiders draft picks since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger continues with defensive end Bob Buczkowski checking in at No. 4…

DE Bob Buczkowski (Pittsburgh, first round, No. 24 overall in 1986)

Who else was available? RB Neal Anderson, LB Pepper Johnson, LB Pat Swilling

Fresh off a 12-4 season, a division title, the No. 1 seed in the AFC and an upset loss to the New England Patriots in the playoffs, the Raiders were getting old. Quick.

With Lyle Alzado retiring, what better position to address than the defensive line? The 6-feet-5, 260-pound Buczkowski was supposed to be a beast on an end, rotating in with the Raiders’ future all-time sack leader in Greg Townsend and future Hall of Famer Howie Long.

Instead, Buczkowski was more of a burden.

He did not appear in a game as a rookie and only played in two the following season, recording the only career sack of his Raiders tenure in the final strike-replacement player game of the 1987 season, getting the San Diego Chargers’ Rick Neuheisel in the first quarter.

Buczkowski resurfaced in 1989 with the then-Phoenix Cardinals, appearing in four games, before playing with the Cleveland Browns in 1990, for whom he had half of one sack in 15 games, three starts.

Years later, he was arrested for running a prostitution ring. And that was it.

Bottom 5 Raiders draft picks since 1970 merger

Dishonorable mentions

No. 5: Darrius Heyward-Bey

No. 4: Bob Buczkowski

No. 3: ?

No. 2: ?

No. 1: ?