January, 1984. I was working for CBS, based out of St. Louis. I was sent to Tampa to cover Super Bowl XVIII between the Washington Redskins (yes, at the time) and the Los Angeles Raiders at The Big Sombrero. Washington was the defending SB champ and was heavily favored.
The Raiders flew into Tampa on Monday. They arrived at their team hotel about a half hour before I was supposed to interview Raiders Coach Tom Flores in the hotel lobby. We had set up the interview through the Raiders’ p.r. staff. Everything is cool.
Until…two minutes before airtime and Coach Flores is nowhere to be found. This is not uncommon in tv. I’m not sweating it too much. But then one minute before airtime a member of the Raiders’ p.r. staff comes up to me and says, “I’m sorry, Coach Flores is in a meeting and is not going to be able to do the interview.”
Ooooo-kay. I am now 45 seconds away from a four-minute live hit, and I have no one to talk to except me. And I’m not that interesting.
Now 30 seconds. I look around the lobby. I spot Howie Long, who is in his third season with the Raiders and having a bang-up year.
I walk up to Howie. “Howie, my name is Paul. I work for CBS. I was supposed to do a live hit with Coach Flores, but he can’t make it…”
“…Howie, can you help me out?”
Howie puts down his diet soda.
Howie, smiling. “Sure, brother. I understand….”
5… “Wud you say your name is?”
2, 1, GO!
And for the next four minutes Howie Long treats me like a lifelong friend, and calls me by name at least a half dozen times.
That’s how you make fans in this world. Howie was and is My Man.
Footnote: Washington was a double-digit favorite in that game. But on Saturday night before the SB, after watching both teams all week, I got on live tv and said, “I will promise you the Raiders will win this game. They’re ready to go.”
Raiders 38, Redskins 9.