There's an eerie silence on the Howie Long front. He has four sacks, a couple of injuries that have slowed him down or sidelined him altogether for five weeks and he hasn't insulted one opponent all season.
The NFL's most quoted player now often turns down requests to do telephone hookups to cities whose teams the Raiders will play. Not that the Raiders mind, since these often led to headlines on the order of, "Long: I Hate the (opponent)."
His sack total is also fourth-high on the team. That isn't surprising, since he is routinely double-teamed in passing situations. Pro Football Weekly's authoritative Joel Buchsbaum recently picked Long as the game's top defensive end, adding that were he a tackle or a nose man, he might be No. 1 at those positions, too.
Says Dick Steinberg, New England Patriots personnel director:
"The guy is a great football player. He has the respect of everybody in the league."
With three straight Pro Bowl starts in hand, and an $800,000 annual contract, Long can't still be worried how he's doing, can he?
Well. . .
"I always worry about my standing," Long said Monday. "It's always a major concern of mine. It's difficult to assess your own game, at least it is for me. I'm a little over-critical about what I do. Therefore, I tend to be a little paranoid.
"I think offensive coordinators go into games now with the intent, 'If we're going to get beat, we're not going to get beat by that guy.' Because of that fact, I'm not having a big-numbers season.
"Like now, guys are having big sack games. Now I'm wondering, 'Gee, will I be in the Pro Bowl?' I'm just hoping to finish up the last four games strong and get a shot at it."
More complications have intruded: the injuries; the fact that he and several other young players were told to assume the mantle of leadership; the fact that his own mentor, Lyle Alzado, had officially gone show biz.
Long once claimed that Alzado had two moods--"teed off and almost teed off." He once predicted that in retirement his friend would be holed up in a villa with an automatic weapon in his lap, waiting for intruders to come over the walls, a la Al Pacino in "Scarface."
In other words, when Alzado went, he took 10% of Long's repertoire with him.
"I definitely miss him," Long said. "There are times I wish we could have come into the league together. If he had come into the league the same time I did, forget about it. We might have been wanted in 4-5 states.
"He was just that type of guy, he wasn't a leader by talking. He had this thing about him, he'd do something irrational all of a sudden and pick things up. Lyle was a big-play guy. I'm more of a down-in, down-out guy.
"I'm 26. I've never really been one for talking about doing things. I've felt I'd try to lead by my performance.
"A lot of that (his new, non-outrageous posture) has to do with leadership. I felt, as other people felt, it was my position to tone it down and just play, become more of a leader, at least within my group.
"It does put pressure on you. But on our defensive line, of the nine when I got here in 1981, I'm the only one left. I'm the oldest guy on the defensive line at 26--by two years.
"Everywhere I go now, it's different. The towns we go in, it's like the matchup: 'Howie Long vs. the offensive line. The question is not will they be able to block him, will they be able to find him?"
A man who is eager to please, who already puts tremendous pressure on himself has no need of more pressure. The Raider press crew has considered wearing black armbands in honor of the lost quotes, but everything seemed to be working out.
Long had his four sacks in the first seven games. Then he pulled his right hamstring on the artificial turf at Houston and had to miss the Denver rematch. He limped carefully on the artificial turf in Texas Stadium and still got a bruise over his right knee that bled internally, forcing him into the hospital and out of the next two games.
"I just knew there was something wrong and I didn't know quite what it was," Long said. "It was a new experience. It felt like the first time in quite some time that I was defenseless. I couldn't defend myself.
"I think the AstroTurf had a lot to do with it. Anyone who disagrees is probably either the inventor or has a big stake in it.
"My comment for them would be, 'Well, let's throw some equipment on you and go out and throw you around on that stuff for 60 minutes. And if something swells up, I'll do the draining with the needle and I'll shoot the cortisone all week.
"It's an ugly experience. The first few times, it's painful. After that, it's emotionally draining. It whips you."
It threatens you, too. Most long-term football contracts, including Long's five-year, $4-million deal, are not guaranteed. If he takes the wrong step, he can be out of here tomorrow.
Nor does the club insure Long's contract. He does.
"I'm insured by Lloyd's of London," he said. "I did that right away. It was a tough check to write. It's rather expensive but I'm playing the rest of this contract for financial security. If I can't finish because of injury, I get a million dollars tax-free.
"My next contract, I'm going to have fun. I'm going to have fun playing football because then it won't matter. I can just go."
The Raiders are listing Howie Long as probable for Sunday's Eagle game, although he'll practice lightly, and there is a chance he won't start. . . . Backup tight end Andy Parker is questionable with a sprained arch. The other players injured at San Diego, guard Charley Hannah (knee) and cornerback Stefon Adams (ankle), are expected to play.