Dolphins could take Howie Long's son with top pick
BY JEFF DARLINGTON
Posted on Wed, Feb. 20, 2008
The kid went to bed with football in his dreams, which meant it was time for his parents to have a talk.
So together in their Virginia home nearly 10 years ago, Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long and his wife began discussing a seemingly reasonable request made earlier that evening from their oldest of three sons.
Chris Long, a top defensive prospect with the potential to become the Dolphins' first-overall pick in April's NFL Draft, then simply wanted to go out for the youth football team. But his dad, one of the best defensive players the NFL has ever seen, figured it would never actually work out.
''Why don't we just let him try it?'' Howie said to his wife, Diane. ``He's going to get his nose bloodied tomorrow at practice, and he's going to come home and never play again! It'll be fine.''
As Chris now tells this story a decade later, recalling the conversation the way his famous father often tells it to him, he's also wolfing down a premeasured portion of vegetable soup from a container at the Parisi Speed School in New Jersey, where he's training for this week's NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.
Suddenly, though, in between impressively rapid and rhythmic bites, he stops his spoon-to-mouth stride. Chris sharply lifts his head up so that it's no longer buried in the soup, as if finally realizing the punch line after all these years.
``You were wrong, Dad!''
The four people in the room, none of whom was actually his father, burst into a moment of laughter. After all, it's no doubt amusing that Chris' famous dad, who makes a living as an NFL analyst for Fox, was dead wrong with this analysis.
Tough enough? Yes, Chris Long is definitely that.
When Long arrives at the combine Friday, he'll attempt to prove he's also tough enough to merit the Dolphins' first-overall selection. Many are already projecting it as a strong possibility. And those closest to him know why.
''Off the field, he's a great guy to be around, real laid back,'' said former Virginia quarterback Chris Olsen, who remains one of Long's best friends. ``But on the field, he's the most intense person I've ever seen. People always talk about his dad's intensity. It sounds crazy, but I honestly couldn't see his father being any more intense than Chris was during college.''
No doubt, Long's senior season at Virginia made for a proud father, who was known for his toughness, intensity and versatility.
Last year, the first-team All-American defensive end racked up 14 sacks and 79 tackles in his best season. His fierce style was a hit with everyone except his opponents, eventually even leading the school to retire his number during the last home game of the season.
But those things don't have an impact on the next level, Long says. That chapter is done. Now, Long realizes there's another task ahead.
''I just want to blow this Combine up with great numbers and show what I can do,'' Long said. ``The rest will take care of itself. I want to be the best I can in each drill. I'm a day-to-day type of guy, and I want to prove I'm willing to exhaust my potential.''
He also wants to continue proving something else: That his father's football legacy no longer casts an unwelcome shadow on his own career -- but rather provides a beneficial resource to his ability to improve.
That's not the way it's always been for this father-and-son tandem. Although they've always been close, they often have tried to veer away from talking about the careers of one another. The dad wanted his sons to create their own opportunities, and Chris wanted the chance to do the same.
''I used to mind it,'' the son said. ``You never want to be somebody that's given anything. You don't want to appear to be that kid who is just resting on his laurels or doing things because of who his dad is. When I wasn't established, I didn't want to talk about it. But now, I'm proud of my dad.
``I've grown a lot, and I can say I'm proud of him. I use him as a resource.''
They became so close, actually, that they would sit down every Monday or Tuesday night after each Virginia game and break down ways to help Chris' game. And recently, the father even visited him at the Parisis Speed School to watch him go through his conditioning drills.
''It was neat because a lot of dads don't show up to watch that,'' said Martin Rooney, the school's director who also trains Chris. ``Here, [Howie] got into the drills. He was doing them with us! Any dad that shows up, a lot of times they'll be critiquing their son and you can tell the kid is just ready to tell him to be quiet.
``But they don't have that type of relationship.''
Not even close. Chris now even boasts about his dad's continued athleticism. (''I can't make fun of him too much for being old,'' he said.) The son also says he's noticed that his father has become much more comfortable enjoying the current situation.
''My dad is overly cautious about giving everybody a fair opportunity to do whatever they want,'' Chris said. ``If I decided I wanted to be a painter, he would have said paint away. But he's proud that I've been able to be successful to this point.''
At this week's combine, it's likely his son's preparations will make his dad even prouder -- while continuing to also help Chris continue to create his own legacy. Rooney said the preparations leading up to the combine have gone incredibly well, which could lead many to soon realize the prospect's potential is the real deal.
Chris looks powerful and lean. He's a tough player with obvious intelligence, all qualities that fit precisely into what the Dolphins are searching for. He's also versatile, but he believes he would be a solid fit at outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, which Miami is likely to run next season.
''I'm open to try anything,'' he said. ``But from what I hear, if I was playing in a 3-4, I'd get some looks at outside linebacker, which I'd be excited about.''
None of those things, however, matter to Chris at this point. Not now. Not yet.
Instead, he isn't focusing on his past accolades or his future plans. At this point, the son of a Hall of Famer is focused on succeeding at this week's combine. That's because with a solid week in Indianapolis, he could finally begin to prove he has what it takes to play football.
Even if his Hall of Fame father once thought otherwise.
''This is a chance to show I'll do whatever it takes,'' said Chris, who plans on being tested in every drill this week. ``I want to show these guys who I am -- for better or for worse. Hopefully, though, it's for the better.''
As former Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas' free-agent tour continues Wednesday in New Orleans, where he will meet with the Saints, the Patriots held talks with yet another former Dolphins castaway Tuesday. Wide receiver Marty Booker met with the Patriots in New England. Neither Thomas nor Booker has agreed to a deal.