Chris Long, the No. 2 pick in the 2008 draft who announced on Twitter on Saturday night that he’s retiring after 11 seasons, two Super Bowl rings and the 2018 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award, gave a bit more insight on why now and what’s next for him.
Speaking with NBC Sports’ Peter King for “Monday Morning Quarterback”, Long said he wanted to keep playing for the Philadelphia Eagles, but it looked like he’d have a small role and didn’t see that being the best option for him.
‘The decision to retire was complicated’
Long said there were several factors that went into his decision to step away from the NFL.
“[I have] learned to never make a decision based on just one thing. The decision to retire was complicated,” he said. “It was based on health, which is still very good, and family, we have two small children, and football fit, which includes a chance to win and my role and geography.
“Philadelphia is where I wanted to play a couple more years. I love Philadelphia. But as a player I learned the most important thing to me is Sunday, and having a chance to be a big part of it. It seemed like player-coach was kind of the role that was going to be carved out for me — maybe playing 10, 12, 15 plays a game.
“I’m a rhythm player. I need to set people up, I need to be in the flow of the game. If I sit on the bench for three series, I can’t get rhythm, and I’ll get cold and maybe I’ll hurt myself. Some people think that’s great — play less and you won’t get hurt. Man, I want to play ball. In Philadelphia, it didn’t seem there was much of a chance to compete there. But they were honest with me the whole time. I appreciate the honesty. I’ll always love Philadelphia and the Eagles, but I didn’t want Week 4, 5 to come around and people think, ‘Whoa, where’s Chris? Did Chris retire?’I’d rather do it this way than just fade out. And I didn’t want to start over again across the country somewhere.”
‘It was a test of my will’
Long was drafted by the St. Louis Rams, and in his first two years, they won three total games. Over his first four seasons, they won just 12 games. Total.
It wasn’t easy.
“Getting drafted second overall, and going to St. Louis, and the fact that we were losing, I just thought, ‘I am not gonna fold. I am not a loser. I am gonna be a bright spot. I am gonna give these fans, who I deeply appreciate for their dedication, the respect they deserve,’,” he said.
“Anyone playing in that era in St. Louis knows how bad it was at times. It was carnage, in so many ways. It was a test of my will. Do I get irritated by the no-Pro Bowl thing, never making a Pro Bowl? Yeah, I do. Fifty sacks in the first six years, with no one watching, on a bad team. I just felt the narrative should be, That kid panned out. But that’s okay—it was a labor of love. I have zero regrets.”
The Rams’ final season in St. Louis was also Long’s final year with the franchise. He signed a one-year contract to play with the New England Patriots in 2016.
‘Nobody asked me to do as much as Bill Belichick did’
Like other players who have passed through New England after playing elsewhere, Long was struck by Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his deep knowledge of the game at every position.
“In New England, I learned so much about football,” Long said. “I always thought I was a smart player, even though I never thought about anything but the six inches in front of my face. In New England, I was forced to learn so many schematic concepts.
“In my career playing football, nobody asked me to do as much as Bill Belichick did. I might be 3-technique, or a linebacker, or a linebacker dropping into coverage more than ever, or playing inside more than ever. I’ll always remember how much I learned watching Bill in practice. He can coach any position as good as any position coach in league. He can walk around the field and stop drills and coach each position — at the highest level. And the quality of the dudes. Solid men. The right kind of people.”
He also loved Tom Brady.
“Tom Brady blew me away. Who’s the most famous athlete of our generation: Tom Brady? LeBron? Messi? Ronaldo? Serena Williams? Maybe I haven’t been around enough to know how the biggest stars really act. But Brady is a normal guy. When I got there, here comes Tom. ‘Hey Chris, I’m Tom, nice to meet you.’ Well, yeah, I know you’re Tom.
“A lot of people want to hate him for all the success, and I understand how you can dislike the Patriots, but I cannot understand how you can dislike Tom.
“That Super Bowl against Atlanta … when we were way behind, I’m thinking, ‘I waited my whole life to be here, and this is a nightmare. This is the worst nightmare I have ever had.’ If we lost that night, I very possibly would have retired a bitter man. But winning it breathed life into me.”
‘Best sports city in America’
Long didn’t re-sign with New England in 2017. He played in 65 percent of the snaps with the Patriots in ’16, but said he wanted to find a place where he could get more opportunities.
Enter the Eagles.
“Going to Philadelphia, I felt I found a home. Best sports city in America. But how different my situation was. I went from team captain with the Rams two years before that to winning the Super Bowl in New England to starting on the bottom in Philly,” Long said. “I was an average Joe. I was challenged. I learned how much being a team, being together, really means.
“We were a case study for whatever you believe. Either we were an anomaly or we proved you could do good things and win in pro sports. We happened to have guys who were good players who cared. I remember winning a Monday Night Football game, falling asleep at 4 or 5 o’clock, and waking up for a train to Harrisburg to work with state legislators on policies. It just showed how much we could make changes in things that matter, and play really good football too. You can be a football player and a citizen. It’s gratifying when young players come up and say they’re inspired to do more because of things that Malcolm Jenkins or Torrey Smith have done, or me.”
Long was one of just two white players in the Players Coalition, fighting for racial inequality and other matters of social justice. He recognized that neither he nor his children would experience many of the wrongs he was trying to right - but he also knew how important it was for him to be an ally in the fight.
After donating his entire 2017 salary and part of his 2018 salary to charitable causes as well as his Waterboys foundation, which has built wells to provide safe drinking water to over 220,000 people in Africa, Long has become known for his good deeds and charitable works.
But he’d like to be known for both philanthropy and football.
“NFL Man of the Year … I never felt deserving of it. I am not the best person in the NFL. I never want to get up there promoting myself as some infallible person. I was very honored,” Long said. “But I was also conflicted that people saw me as this community service guy, not a player. Nobody saw me as the player I was in my prime. I don’t want to be known as Community Service Guy; I want to be known as a guy who busted his ass for 11 years at his craft.
“But I do appreciate the fact that people saw that I played for free for one year, that I was part of a group that built 61 wells for people to get fresh water in Africa, and that we’ve got 220,000 people drinking from our wells. I will not downplay that stuff. But I am not some angel, believe me. I don’t have a brand. My brand is me.”
As for what’s next, Long said he’s launching a digital-media company and will have his own podcast. Where once he feared retirement from football, he’s now embracing it.
“Whatever I do, I’ll be me,” he said.
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