A Long Time Coming
And now for the individual matchup of the weekend, the one you’ve all been waiting for, the one every pregame show and postgame show Sunday will feature endlessly:
Chris Long versus Kyle Long?
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will meet for the 14th time in the NFL on Sunday night in Foxboro. Rams defensive end Chris Long and Bears guard Kyle Long, sons of Howie, will face each other earlier Sunday for the first time on an athletic field. Ever.
“That’s right,’’ Kyle, 24, said from Chicago on Wednesday. “I have gone to his practices and watched his games for years, but we have never been on the same team or played each other on different teams—in anything. That’s going to be the weirdest part of this … just seeing my brother on the same field.”
“I’m excited to see him, and I’m excited to be on the same field with him, finally,’’ Chris, 28, said from St. Louis on Thursday. “But when he got drafted by Chicago and I saw they were on our schedule, I dreaded it. I dreaded it in a big way. I was worried he’d play tackle, and if it was right tackle, we’d be opposite each other for the game. But he’s a guard, so that’s a relief. What’s great is that our entire family will be there—the first time all five us have been together at an NFL game.”
That’s right—FOX has given Howie Sr. the day off, so he and the extended family can watch the game together in an Edward Jones Dome suite Sunday afternoon.
Because Chris is the Rams’ left end and Kyle the Bears’ right guard, they won’t see a lot of each other, except on plays when Chris rushes from the inside, or moves inside on a stunt after the play has begun. “We’re not going to get a heavy dose of each other,’’ said Chris. “Which is good.”
“There is a way to block him, if and when I have to,’’ said Kyle. “And I will do my job. It’s going to be interesting.”
Most interesting, I thought from my conversations with the brothers, is how Kyle brought up one of the most painful periods of his life, his four-month stay at a substance-abuse treatment facility in 2009 after a short-lived enrollment at Florida State. He’d gone to Florida State rather than start a pro baseball career after being drafted out of high school as a fireballing pitcher by the White Sox in 2008. But too much partying and a DUI led him to seek help and leave Florida State the next year.
He didn’t talk about what he went through in his treatment. Except on some of the fall Sundays.
“I had to bribe one of the security guards when I was in the treatment center to let me watch the Rams games,’’ Kyle said. “I wanted to see my brother.”
Think about being away from your family and your routine, and being alone at a time when a major alarm bell is ringing in your life. You want to be able to hold onto something, anything, that feels right and normal. He’d grown up watching big brother Chris excel in sports. To do that while he was trying to get his own life in order helped Kyle.
“You know,’’ Chris said, “everyone kind of grows up on their own shot clock. You have to understand the kind of microscope he was under. Where we lived in Virginia, a lot of people wanted to see him fail, because of who his dad is.’’
Kyle's dad is a Hall of Fame football player and his big brother was drafted high in the first round to play pro football.
“He was under a microscope, for sure,’’ said Chris. “And at the time, when he was fighting his problems, I was worried. I was scared. I love him as much as I love anyone. But he fought and he came out of it, and I am so proud of him as a man. Forget football. I am just proud of the person he has become.’’
When he got out of treatment, Kyle decided to drop baseball and stick to football. That led to junior college football in southern California—defensive end, and then the offensive line—before enrolling at Oregon and starring there in a brief career in 2012. He could throw a 95-mph fastball, and he loved the challenge of facing hitters, and Chris even told him, “Dude, play baseball! You can be an ace!” But it’s in their blood. Football won.
Chris used to complain to his mother, “Mom! Kyle’s copying me again!’’ He copied him again in adulthood, all the way to the first round. And Sunday, we'll see if Kyle’s ready to be as good a guard as Chris is a defensive end.
About Last Night …
New Orleans 17, Atlanta 13. This is precisely how the season is going for these two teams: Just over two minutes left, Saints up 17-13, Falcons line up for 52-yard field goal, kicker Matt Bryant kicks, whistle blows, it’s good … but wait. Sean Payton called a timeout to ice Bryant. The kick—perfect. On the next kick, Bryant is wide left. He’d made eight in a row. New Orleans took the ball on a short field and ran out the clock.
Player You Need To Know This Weekend
Gerald McCoy, defensive tackle, Tampa Bay (number 93). Coming off his best game as a pro (three sacks, three quarterback pressures, huge impact in a rout of the Falcons), McCoy leads the resurgent Bucs into Ford Field to play the NFC North-leading Lions. Tampa Bay has been impressive three weeks in a row after an 0-7 start, losing in Seattle after leading 21-0, then beating both Miami and Atlanta. McCoy told me this week he’s benefited by some advice from his starry predecessor at defensive tackle for the Bucs, Warren Sapp. “He told me to stop being so nice on the field,’’ said McCoy. He’s playing a little angrier now, but never dirty.
Sound Bite of the Week
“My mom thought it was a penalty.”
—Tom Brady, on his mother’s opinion of the official’s picked-up flag on the last play of the Carolina-New England game Monday night. The Patriots thought pass interference should have been called.
Ten Things I’ll Be Watching For This Weekend
1. Backup-quarterbackmania. The following players will start this weekend in NFL games: Scott Tolzien, Matt McGloin, Case Keenum, Josh McCown, Kellen Clemens.
2. The Giants overstating reality. “This is like a Super Bowl to us,’’ said defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul of the game against the Cowboys on Sunday afternoon. Except in a Super Bowl, the combined record of the two combatants is usually a tad better than 9-11.
3. Manning-Brady XIV. So Brady is up in the series, 9-4, and, as usual, they meet again in Foxboro. Don’t they always meet in Foxboro? Isn’t it an NFL rule that Manning must be at Brady every season, thought they’re not in the same division? The best stat of all, though, is that the last eight games between them have been split, 4-4. Composite score of the eight: Brady 215, Manning 212.
4. The JFK anniversary stuff. I know you’re sick of it, unless you’re a person of a certain age. You may be sick of it even if you are 56 or older (I am 56), but I cannot get enough of it. How about this one: Don Meredith, the Dallas quarterback who piloted the Cowboys against the Browns in Cleveland 47 hours after the assassination of the president, sat at a nightclub table with Jack Ruby a few months before Ruby murdered Lee Harvey Oswald an hour before the Browns and Cowboys kicked off that Sunday.
5. Tough turnaround for Pittsburgh. The Steelers have two must-wins in five days, both on the road: in Cleveland on Sunday, then a bus ride back home Sunday night, then a short flight to Baltimore on Wednesday for a Thanksgiving night game. When those two are over, the Steelers could either have a life or be playing for 2014.
6. Refgate. Watch for updates on the Roy Ellison/Trent Williams set-to. Ellison is the umpire accused of slurring the Washington tackle, Williams. Now Ellison is saying Williams started it. In the NFL offices, I can tell you vice president of officiating Dean Blandino and Roger Goodell won’t care. Officials have to listen to ugly things and just walk away. That’s why I think Ellison will be disciplined, and harshly, if he’s found to be guilty here.
7. The Ted Wells interviews. I talked to Miami owner Stephen Ross on Wednesday, and he wants the truth from the NFL investigator, no matter how ugly it gets. Seems like a lot of ugliness is on the horizon.
8. The Baltimore tight sitch. Joe Flacco has missed his best friend and best target since Dennis Pitta wrecked his hip in training camp. Pitta started practicing this week, and if all goes well, he could return for the last two or three games.
9. RG3 and life as a leader. Sure sounded like he wasn’t taking any responsibility for the final pass of last week’s loss, a duck thrown stupidly into the end zone on a third down when he had a play left. The ball was picked, ending a tough loss against Philadelphia. Santana Moss is right: Sometimes as a quarterback, you’ve got to shoulder blame whether you think you deserve it or not. In this case, Griffin really didn't. Now the Niners come in for a Monday-nighter. Not exactly a reprieve.
10. Underrated game of the weekend: Indy-Arizona. At Arizona. The Cards look competent on offense and oppressive on defense. That’s been enough to beat the Colts in recent weeks. How bizarre is this: By nightfall Sunday in Arizona, the Cards—with a win—would be ahead of San Francisco in the NFC West standings.