Howie Long's insecurity remains despite the security gained by three Pro Bowl selections.
"It's over real quick, you don't realize that," the Raiders' all-everything defensive end said recently. "It can slip away. Being complacent isn't even a word in my vocabulary."
If the five-year veteran gets much better, words in anyone's vocabulary won't be able to describe him. Faced with near constant double-teaming, he recorded 10 sacks in leading a defense that propelled the Raiders to a 12-4 regular-season record, the AFC West title and the home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Raiders host the New England Patriots in the AFC semifinals Sunday at the Coliseum.
"I don't ever get caught overlooking an opponent," Long said with his usual sincerity. "I'm too insecure for that. The Patriots are a very good team. They're on my mind 24 hours a day. The Super Bowl seems like a year away.
"But I saw 'Rocky IV' the other night. We don't have to fly to Russia and beat Ivan Drago. It's just the New England Patriots."
Thanks to a big-number contract, Long doesn't need to play football to live. Still, one gets the idea the 24-year-old lives to play football.
"If somebody thinks about football more than I do, I'd like to meet him," he said. "He may be the only person I'd talk to at breakfast."
Long has come a long way from the streets of Boston where he grew up 400 yards from Boston Garden. Playing at Villanova, the 6-foot-5, 270-pounder never expected to play professional football. Instead, he felt he'd struggle to "keep a roof over my head."
He was drafted on the second round in 1981 by the Raiders on the advice of defensive line coach Earl Leggett. Long came to training camp expecting a brief, uneventful career. Instead, Leggett worked him so hard it felt, in Long's words, like "boot camp."
The progress has been steady. Playing left end, Long has set the standard for NFL linemen.
"I believe I'm kinda like a shark," Long said with a smile. "I prepare, show up, get the job done and show no emotion."
It is often difficult to be unemotional while playing for a team which brings out so much emotion.
"When teams play us, every week is the Super Bowl," he said. "I don't know what we (Raider teams) did in the '70s, but they hate us. They have Raider week, Raider T-shirts ..."
A Silver and Black bad-boy image Long says is a lie.
"We're supposed to be one of the dirtiest teams in the NFL," he said. "There are people who have tried to maim me from the tight end and tackle positions. We don't allow that here."
Even when the now-injured Lyle Alzado hit the field?
"The things Lyle does to you, you'll recover from -- physically," Long chuckled.
Long uses strength, mobility and aggressiveness to produce head shakes by quarterbacks, running backs and offensive linemen.
"I think people hate us, they fear us and they respect us," he said. "I don't want to be loved. I just want to be feared and respected.
"I played at Villanova before 2,000 people so that (disappointing) crowds out here don't bother me. I'm my own inspiration. I do it all."
He does it all, yet remains level-headed. The reward for success?
"When I go to Clipper (basketball) games, the nacho lady gives me more cheese," he kidded.
"Every one is afraid, but it's how you react after the fear. I don't have anything to hide. What you see is what you get. This is me, Howie Long."