Being drafted by the New York Jets in 1977 would be life changing for South Carolina fullback Kevin Long. And that was before he even stepped onto the field.
"I always wanted to play in the NFL. I was never quite sure I'd get drafted and when I did, I mean, to go to New York, what better place to go to. That was the very first time I'd been there, and I was scared to death," Long said with a laugh. "We flew in over the city going to LaGuardia and I was just in total awe. My hometown, Clinton, South Carolina, there were 20,000 people, if that many.
"They had told me to look for a guy with a sign, and here's this guy in a chauffeur uniform. He takes me out and I get into this long black limousine. I'd never rode around in a limo in my life. It was one of those 'if they could only see me now' moments."
Part of that year's Jets draft class with Marvin Powell, Wesley Walker, Joe Klecko, Dan Alexander, Scott Dierking and Matt Robinson, Long saw spot duty in the backfield and on special teams as a rookie. However, the following season he led the team with 214 carries for 954 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"I think it was just the opportunity to get a chance to start," Long said. "Plus, we had the situation where (third-year veteran quarterback) Richard Todd had gone down (because of a broken collarbone) and Matt Robinson came in, and it was new for him. We kind of had that Georgia-South Carolina rivalry thing. We were familiar with each other, having seen each other's careers over the years.
"He was just happy to get me the ball and I was happy to run it. Matt was the type of person who was a very good leader. And we had an excellent offensive line. It was just nice to be in that situation."
That season and the next two, Long was more than occasionally in a situation to put points on the scoreboard. After finding the end zone 10 times in 1978, he rushed for 13 more in 1979 and 1980.
"In order for me to stay in the league because there was so much competition coming in every year, you pretty much have to specialize in something. And so, I made up my mind that I was going to be the best short-yardage fullback there was," Long said. "And that's just what I concentrated on. Whatever it took for me to get that that yard or two yards, that's what I was going to do. If I had to plow into the line or leap over somebody, that's all that I was really concentrating on, to get those short yardages."
Coming up short in the postseason for 12 years, the Jets went 10-5-1 in 1981, Long's fifth season, and made the playoffs as a Wild Card team. They fell to Buffalo, 31-27.
"It was great to finally be on a winning team that was above .500," Long said. "We felt pretty good the years that we were 8-8, but, man, to finally go to a playoff game… It's just a shame that we didn't win it and go farther. But that was a great experience. I had hoped to be back the next year, but it didn't work out that way."
After five seasons, the Jets traded Long to the Chicago Bears in 1982.
"That was Mike Ditka's first year (as the head coach), and that didn't work out for me at all," Long said. "For whatever reason, there was just so much difference in the NFC compared to the AFC. I guess the way they do things over there."
While things didn't work out for Long with the Bears, across town a year later with the Chicago Blitz in the upstart USFL, it was a different story. Long would play all three seasons of the league's existence with the Blitz and the two Arizona teams. What did he find to be the biggest difference between the NFL and the USFL?
"The talent wasn't totally up to par with the USFL. You had some good players, but then you had some that, well, they shouldn't have been playing pro football at all," said Long, who between the two leagues, played eight seasons and rushed for 4,506 yards and 56 touchdowns. "It was a great opportunity for us that couldn't get back into the NFL. I tried to get back in after I was cut from the Bears, but nobody would give me a contract. So, that was the only option I had.
"I was fortunate that I played for George Allen, who I thought was one of the best coaches in the world. He was a very good coach. A very good man.
"And then I played with the Arizona Wranglers. We merged with the San Antonio Gunslingers (in 1985) and became the Outlaws. That's when I got to play with (quarterback) Doug Williams before he went to Washington (and joined the Redskins). And you know his story."
Long's post-playing career story actually began while he was with the Jets.
"A lot of times during the offseason when I would go home, I would do various jobs," Long said. "I really fell in love with driving truck and so that's what I spent the bulk of my time doing once my (football) career was over with, driving a commercial vehicle for various companies. I worked (last in Columbia, SC) for Atlas Food Services, which is a vending company, for 13 years."
Enshrined in both the University of South Carolina and the State of South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fames, Long, who is retired, makes his home in Columbia with his wife of 42 years, Frankie. They have four children: Kevin, Latifah, Alisa and Salia; and six grandchildren.
"My life is a dream come true," Long said. "I got to play professional football. I married a beautiful woman. I have a great family. I may not be rich, but because of that, I'm wealthy."