Photo: Frank Micelotta/FOX/Picture Group
Football has been good to me. I’ve worked eight Super Bowl broadcasts for Fox Sports, and I won Super Bowl XVIII while playing with the Los Angeles Raiders. That game was in 1984, and Lyle Alzado and I wanted to get to Tampa Stadium early, so we took a cab. After getting stuck in traffic, we got out and walked the last three-quarters of a mile. You could never do that now. I was just a kid, in my third year in the league, and I’m not sure I realized the magnitude of the moment.
Thirty-three years later, I was struck by the magnitude of the game again when my son Chris’s New England Patriots played the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. Going into the game, I didn’t view it any differently from the Super Bowls I’d broadcasted before. I didn’t sleep well the night before, tossing and turning while going over possible scenarios, but I was fine as we did the first couple hours of the Fox pregame show from downtown Houston. But the second I walked into NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017, it hit me: My son is playing in the Super Bowl.
Leading up to the game, my advice to Chris was to leave no stone unturned. From Tuesday of Super Bowl week on, I told him to let his mom, Diane, and me handle all the logistics—tickets, hotel rooms—while he concentrated on the game. One night during the middle of the week, 10 or 12 of our family and friends gathered at Steak 48, a restaurant in the River Oaks District, but after that we wanted to leave Chris alone. Plus, I had to focus on my work for Fox Sports.
The game itself was a blur. Was I pulling for my son? Sure. But I have too much respect for the game and my profession to let that impact my broadcast.
The night didn’t seem like it would end in idyllic fashion, anyway. The Falcons led the Patriots 21–3 at halftime. Usher was in the green room, wearing Falcons gear and jumping up and down. I was quiet, sitting against the wall by myself. I was like a duck under water. The surface was calm, but beneath, I was churning. I felt like the worst father ever.
Let me explain. Chris played his first eight seasons with the St. Louis Rams, and despite his personal success, the team never had a winning record. In February 2016, after he was cut by the Rams, Chris met with both the Falcons and Patriots. He liked the Falcons’ coaching staff, but I pushed him toward the Patriots, figuring he’d have a shot to win it all there. Now they were getting trounced by the team he might have chosen without my input.
Things turned around in the second half, though. The Patriots completed a remarkable comeback and won in overtime, 34–28. The enjoyment I took in seeing Chris win Super Bowl LI far exceeded the enjoyment I had in winning my own ring for the Raiders. It was like watching your son excel in Little League—just in front of a much larger audience.
Celebrating with my family afterward was surreal. The Patriots’ official Super Bowl party was a zoo, so all of us—me; Diane; my sons, Chris, Howie Jr., and Kyle; and some of Chris’s friends—went back to our hotel, the Four Seasons. It was so late that the hotel had stopped serving room service, but they graciously made us some burgers. We just sat in the lobby and soaked it all in. At 5:45 a.m. we finally decided to go to bed, but the game was being played on a loop in my hotel room, so I watched it twice more. I never ended up sleeping. That night is as close to nirvana as I’ve ever known.
After the season, Chris wanted to find a team that had a defensive scheme that better fit his skills, so he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. That next season, the Eagles made the Super Bowl. I worked the NFC Championship Game for Fox, and after the Eagles beat the Minnesota Vikings, Chris was interviewed by Terry Bradshaw, who he calls “Uncle Terry.” I held Chris’s son Waylon, my grandson, on my lap. All he had known in his life were Super Bowls.
Chris’s Eagles would go on to win Super Bowl LII against his previous team, the Patriots, 41–33. During the championship parade, players spoke from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where Rocky Balboa triumphantly ran the steps in Rocky. Just like Balboa eventually became, my son was a champion.
Pro Football Hall of Famer Howie Long works the Fox broadcast of Super Bowl LIV from Miami on February 2.