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NFL road proved long

Then: Doug Long , was an NAIA All-America receiver for Whitworth in 1975.
 (File photos / The Spokesman-Review)
Then: Doug Long , was an NAIA All-America receiver for Whitworth in 1975. (File photos / The Spokesman-Review)

The Whitworth Pirates football program has had a number of landmark accomplishments in recent seasons, topped by last year’s Northwest Conference championship and the school’s first playoff win.

Not to mention the rebirth of the “Has Beens.”

That’s the self-assigned nickname of a group of former Pirates who treaded much of the same cherished ground as last year’s crew. The Has Beens number perhaps 20, communicate via e-mail and have held reunions in Las Vegas the last few years.

Doug Long, an NAIA All-America receiver on the 1975 team and the second Pirate to play in an NFL regular season game, missed those reunions because he had to attend real estate conventions, but he’s a Has Been through and through.

“The liveliness and success of the program has renewed life of all the Has Beens, and when we say Has Beens we’re very proud to label ourselves that,” Long said by telephone from his office in Olympia. “But we were the real deal at one time.”

Indeed they were. “Whitworth owns day, beats mighty Linfield” read The Spokesman-Review headline on Nov. 9, 1975. The article details Long’s touchdown catch with 1:29 left as the tiebreaker in a 21-14 win. Whitworth wouldn’t beat Linfield again until last season, a span of 31 years. (Whitworth and Linfield collide Saturday at the Pine Bowl in a game with championship implications).

The ‘75 Pirates earned a co-NWC championship, which didn’t happen again until 2001. Whitworth’s only outright NWC title came last season.

The ‘75 Pirates might have set unofficial records for camaraderie as head coach Hugh Campbell molded players from numerous spots on the globe into a unit that was “almost as close as a team could be,” all working toward team success, Long said.

Long will never forget the day defensive back Rand Hatch dashed into Long’s dorm room and eagerly told him head coach Hugh Campbell wanted to see him.

“When coach Campbell wanted to see you, you usually did something wrong,” Long said. “He said, ‘We made it, you just got selected All-American.’ He had called (quarterbacks) Steve (Wilson), Duane (Matthews) and John (Custer) may have been there, too, to share in the moment. You often hear guys say, ‘What a great offensive line we had’ or so forth, but in my life it’s very real. I remember the moments where it was all about us.”

Like one of his favorite photographs. He doesn’t recall which teammate scored, but “I’m running alongside with my arms straight up and there are two or three other guys with their hands up in the air signaling touchdown. We were such a blended group.”

The group included Dirk Peterson, Rick Spelman, Doug MacAuley, Kelly Archer, Mark Jensen, Ron Chadwick, Pete Hagstrom, Gary Rasmussen, Leo Ezrins, Dave Curtis and Mark Chow. Wilson, one of three quarterbacks, is an NFL referee and executive pastor at Valley Nazarene. Chow is a King County District Judge. Curtis coaches Clarkston High School’s football team.

When Long signed a free-agent deal with the Seattle Seahawks, his first training-camp practice was in Cheney. A half dozen Pirates watched from behind the fences.

Long, who also played basketball at Whitworth, was recruited by several bigger schools, but “I loved the feel of Whitworth. I remember going to the UW and being in the locker room and feeling like I could be part of this. I think they had something like 25,000 students, more than three times bigger than the town (Shelton) I was coming from.”

Beyond that, Long said, “Coach Campbell was the right guy for me.” Long presented Campbell when he was inducted into Whitworth’s Heritage Gallery Hall of Fame. Long, who was inducted in 1995, called Campbell a “second father.”

Long began to believe an NFL career was a possibility during his final two years at Whitworth. He was a senior on the 1976 team that went 6-3. It was also Campbell’s last season. He took the coaching job at Edmonton in the CFL, a move that almost derailed Long’s NFL hopes. Teams had heard Long was going to follow Campbell to the CFL. He informed NFL teams that wasn’t true, but he still wasn’t drafted. His disappointment gave way when Seahawks executive Vince Lombardi Jr. – a spitting image of his famous father – walked up the driveway of the family home with a free-agent contract.

Long made the most of the opportunity. In those days, Long drove a Pinto and a rising star named Steve Largent piloted a VW. After Long made a routine catch early in practice, ex-Seahawks assistant coach Jerry Rhome asked him why he went to Whitworth.

“I said, ‘I loved it from Day One.’ It was a small school, a Christian school, a family I wanted to be part of,” Long said. “I said, ‘Why do you ask?’ He said, ‘Because I think if you would have gone to a big college, you would have been a No. 1 pick.’ “

That didn’t stop the Seahawks from moving Long to safety during the preseason. Long made an impression at his first practice. He read a running play and met Sherman Smith in the hole. The collision drew an eruption of comments from nearby players. He was told later he probably would have gone back to receiver if not for that tackle.

Long played in 16 games in two-plus seasons before being released. He toyed with joining Campbell in the CFL and the USFL, but concentrated on his family, real estate and volunteer coaching with several prep programs on the west side. He’s been married to Kristie for 28 years and they have three children. Kyle, 24, played football for Eastern Washington University.

Long remembers Kyle asking why he doesn’t display pictures or awards on his office desk or walls. It isn’t his style, he told his son.

“Coach Campbell made a statement and I believe it and I’ll bet the Whitworth boys would believe it: It’s all about having fun and if we have enough fun we’ll win and we’ll win if we have enough fun,” Long said. “I tell the agents I work with now we have to figure out how to have fun.”

Good advice. Take it from a Has Been.