For eight seasons, Chris Long toiled in his trade as a member of the St. Louis Rams and he was a darn good football player, a leader in the locker room, and a man who never experienced the thrill of playoff football. Now he's an experienced postseason hand, having won Super Bowl LI with New England and making a return trip with the Eagles for Super Bowl LII.
Weird, huh? All those sacks – 54.5 of them in his eight seasons with the Rams, including back-to-back years (2011-12) with 13 and 11.5, respectively, and not a single playoff appearance. Then the floodgates open and here is Long in the midst of the most football he's played in consecutive football campaigns.
"I think you just have to stay with it," Long said. "There were times when I thought maybe it just wasn't my luck to have a career of success. I had some individual success, but never as a team. There were some crossroads where I was like, 'Well, maybe I don't want to do this anymore.'
"I'm really glad I stuck it out."
So are the Eagles, because Long has been an invaluable player on the field, a tremendous role model in the locker room, and the kind of selfless player who is the epitome of what the Eagles are all about. He signed a two-year contract with the Eagles in the spring, unheralded to be sure, and then went about making this defense better, the team more understanding of what it takes to win in the NFL and all of us more aware of those in need.
You know the story: Long ended up donating his entire season's salary to charities. His first six game checks went to fund scholarships to a private middle and high school in Long's hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia.
Through his Chris Long Foundation, Long then donated the remaining 10 game checks to organizations that support educational equality in the three cities in which he has played in his NFL career – St. Louis, Boston, and now Philadelphia. The campaign, called Pledge 10 for Tomorrow, raised over $1.3 million.
Long's charitable ways have drawn national attention: He received a shoutout from former President Barack Obama earlier in the season and then this week was named one of five finalists for the prestigious Byron "Whizzer" White Award, the National Football League Players Association's highest honor that is presented annually to the player who has a profound impact on his community.
"It's certainly not why you do it," Long said. "I grapple a lot with, 'Do we make this campaign public or do I just make donations the way we've done throughout my career with my foundation. But as I learned earlier in my career, you can achieve a lot more in the cause that you're dedicated to if you involve fans. This year I grappled with this whole thing. I don't like the attention off the field. Some people might not believe that; there are a lot of cynical folks, but that's not why I did it. I did it because I knew that if I gave up my salary, people would look at that favorably and say, 'I want to get involved as well.' By doing that, fans and businesses and other players were able to more than double my investment in the cause that was important to me this year, which was educational equity."
He's a remarkable man, the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Howie Long and a father who beamed with pride as his son, Waylon, was present at the game with dad and granddad watching a celebration after the Eagles whipped the Minnesota Vikings 38-7 in the NFC Championship Game.
Waylon is now old enough to understand, at least a little bit, the significance of the moment.
"Last year he wasn't even a year old so he didn't know what was going on. Confetti is falling (when Long played with the Patriots) and he was just confused. This year, he knew he was at dad's football game," Long said. "Waylon is the best part of my life and to have him there at big moments like that is awesome."
The next task, of course, is to beat New England in the Super Bowl. Long is very aware of the Patriots, their talent, their scheme, and their tremendous coaching.
This is going to take a tremendous performance by the Eagles.
"Everything runs through number 12 (quarterback Tom Brady) and 87 (tight end Rob Gronkowski). In my opinion, those are two of the greatest to ever play at their positions. You can make an argument that they are the greatest," Long said. "They work well as a team. Everything they do, they do on the same page. They have four or five really good running backs. Their offensive line, they've got one of the best-coached units in the league … they just have a ton of weapons. You have to do everything well to beat them."
In such a short time, Long has become the definition of what an Eagle has to be. How many players come in, this late in their careers, and become part of the fabric of the city and the team?
"This city, the fan base, they really have kind of adopted me as one of their own in just a year," he said. "I couldn't ask for much more than that. As a football player, it's important to feel like you're at home and I felt at home this year.
"I've got great teammates and, here we are, with a chance to win the Super Bowl."