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 [dad, mom, Kyle, Chris and younger brother Howie Jr.] 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.