Long brothers to share rare meeting
Once, when the Long boys were young, somewhere between the endless competitions only brothers could invent -- the bike ramps into the pool and the general havoc the three created on a daily basis -- Chris, then 11, became a bit too mean-spirited in the opinion of his parents in his treatment of younger brother Kyle, then 7.
It was Chris' first year in Pop Warner football, and Howie and Diane Long told their oldest son that if he continued the behavior, he was not going to be allowed to play football the next fall.
It must have been too irresistible to stop.
"We had to follow through, so we didn't let him play," Diane said. "If you're going to make a stand, you've got to follow through."
Diane did not, however, attempt to stop the teasing that has gone on recently as Chris, a defensive end in his sixth season with the St. Louis Rams, and Kyle, a rookie offensive guard for the Chicago Bears, prepare to take the same field for the first time this Sunday, in St. Louis.
"It's going to be awesome," Kyle said with all the enthusiasm of a 7-year-old after practice last week. "I sent him a text the other day saying something like, 'How pumped are you for next week?', and then I was like, yada, yada, yada and we were talking smack, and he said something like, 'When I beat you, my dance will be directed at you.'"
Just the same, Chris -- who has 6.5 sacks this season and one touchdown, which he scored on a 45-yard fumble return in the Rams' 38-8 victory over the Colts in their last game -- admitted to feeling conflicted.
"It will be a lot of fun, but as much as I'm going to try to treat it like a normal game, I'm a little torn," he said by phone last week. "When you get on [the] field, it's such a violent, competitive game and winner take all. It's a blurred line where you're trying to soak it in and enjoy the moment and think about how many people get to do this but also play the game to the last play and take no prisoners."
While there is every chance the two will have physical contact during the game, there won't be quite the thrill of the boyhood wrestling matches.
"It's an interesting thing. When you reach a certain age, that stuff goes out the window and it's not even acceptable anymore," Chris said with a laugh. "He's 6-6, 313 [pounds], and I'm 6-3, 265-270. It's not for play anymore. But it will be interesting to see how we react. When you see your brother before the game, do you go give him a hug? It should be a lot of fun. I know we'll both play hard. Hopefully everyone will be healthy and it will be a great day."
[We've talked about] understanding the significance of the moment and taking a mental Polaroid in your head, to take a second and enjoy it because the next minute will be here quickly, and you don't know when you'll be down this road again. I know I'll be trying to take a Polaroid of this.Howie Long
Their father, NFL Hall of Famer and FOX analyst Howie Long, will experience his first football Sunday off in 33 years when he, his wife Diane and 40-50 friends and family descend on the Edward Jones Dome to watch.
"I'm always mindful of how the Mannings feel … but Peyton is not hitting Eli, and, trust me, I'm not sure what we're going to be feeling on Sunday," the elder Long said. "I'm nervous every Sunday. I have a hard time when they're playing simultaneously. … Hopefully Chris doesn't reduce down over the guard a lot."
When Chris, Kyle and Howie Jr. -- 12 months and three weeks younger than Kyle -- were growing up, their mother's license plate was "3 Boy Zoo."
"So you can imagine what that entails," Kyle said. "It was just three crazy young'uns running around, physical, blood everywhere, smiles on our faces, teeth missing, hair pulled out. My parents would come home and ask what happened, and it was always, 'Nothing happened.' That's just how it was." Kyle recalled once when their mother asked for one of the boys to take the trash out and he muttered something under his breath along the lines of, "Why don't you take the trash out?"
"And all of a sudden, whack, my older brother hits me and then my younger brother is jumping on me, saying 'Don't talk to mom like that.'" Kyle said. "So, either way, I'm either getting jumped or my younger brother and I were jumping on my older brother. A lot of stories like that in my house."
Diane laughed at the memory of dirty socks and gum wrappers she found in antique urns and other strange places. "Any vessel," she said.
"If there was something to climb on, to take apart, if they could make anything into something to ride on, they would do that and not usually in the most appropriate way."
But it was actually Kyle and Howie Jr. who competed with and against each other most often.
"Growing up, I always wished we were closer in age so I could be out there with them on the same field," Chris said. "But it was a lot of fun watching their Little League baseball games. Kyle was the pitcher and Howie his catcher, and Howie, who was half his size, would come out to the mound and shake him, tell him to get your you-know-what together and then storm back to home plate."
When push literally came to shove, Kyle usually ended up on the short end.
"Chris always had my back and would put Kyle in his place," recalled Howie, now an intern in football operations with the Oakland Raiders, the franchise with which their father played his entire Hall of Fame career. "But that kind of changed when Kyle got super-big. Then we really had to team up against him.
"My mom would always complain, 'Why are you guys fighting so much?', and we'd say, 'Mom, this is what brothers do.'"
What the Long brothers also do is relate to the inherent pressures in a way few others that exist in a family like theirs can.
"We share that bond, always and still to this day," Kyle said. "People used to call me Howie's son, and now, on 'Monday Night Football,' Jon Gruden's calling me Chris Long. He can't get my name right. So my whole life I've been kind of this 'the offspring of' or 'the sibling of,' and I'm just fighting my ass off to become Kyle, which will be a pretty good thing. It's something I've looked forward to for a long time, to be my own man, but in no way, shape or form, am I embarrassed or trying to run away from the family."
Chris said he "laughed" at Gruden's gaffes, in part because he likes the former coach and also because he said he is still called Jake (an offensive tackle for the Rams who has no relation to Chris), sometimes even from fans wearing his jersey. But when it comes to being Howie Long's son, Chris said he certainly gets it.
"I just know how it feels, and, sometimes, the most valuable thing you can give somebody is just that common understanding, and we naturally have that," he said. "I've been through it where people want to tell you how you didn't earn it, that it must've been easy, all that stuff. Kyle heard it his whole football career, as ridiculous as it sounds. Like a pro organization is going to make a multimillion dollar investment based on who your dad is."
Whether or not Kyle -- who also had to deal with his brother being an All-American for their hometown University of Virginia football team -- felt the heaviest burden is a matter of perspective. But, certainly, the stress weighed heavily on him.
"I went to go play baseball, and I was so exhausted from running from [a football career], it was time for me to turn around and face my destiny, I guess you could say," Kyle said. "I didn't know it at the time, but once I got onto a baseball field and saw the people who weren't around anymore because of the lack of football in my life, it made me realize, 'Maybe this thing is special and God has blessed me in a certain way,' and I've been blessed enough to have a tremendous family when it comes to this kind of thing."
That realization, he said, resonated again a few years later after he was arrested on a DUI charge the same week in January 2009 that it was announced he was leaving Florida State for academic reasons.
"Chris didn't lecture," Kyle said. "He just understood that it's like with anything. If you get a cold, it's going to run its course. I'm not saying he gave me orange juice and Sprite, but he's somebody that made sure I had just the right amount of support to be able to get through."
Said Chris: "Everybody has a different route they take to success or adulthood. We're all constantly evolving and growing up. I'm 28 and still growing up, and I'm sure when I'm 40, I still will be.
"While a lot of kids have a neat little progression to college -- doing internships and going about their business with everything going well -- Kyle had a couple rough spots and a couple different stops along the way. He was under the microscope anyway because of who he is, and there were definitely some low points, but he was able to pull himself out of that, and that takes a lot. He's still maturing, but he has become a man. He just handles his business the right way."
Kyle praises his younger brother Howie for acting as "the older brother" with his wisdom and guidance and calls Chris "my hero.
"Obviously, people look at my family and think, 'Well, your dad's your hero. But my dad was a dad to me. He wasn't the football player. Chris is somebody I saw go from middle school to high school to college and now to the NFL, and he showed me that, here, I'm going to light the way for you and you can do what you have to do: just work hard. And he set a great example. He's my hero and one of my best friends."
Chris said their relationship only gets better with age.
"That means a great deal to me he would say that, and I definitely admire Kyle a lot," he said. "Obviously, as my brother, I love him, but what he has been able to accomplish as a person -- not even as a football player -- even when things have been turbulent, he's been able to right the ship. … I love talking to the guy now. I love calling him up and being able to relate with stories from work now that we're both doing it."
Their parents are warmed by their words.
"At the end of the day," their father said, "I know if, God forbid, something happened to me, I'm really at peace with the fact that they would take care of one another."
Howie Jr. did a little research and found that roughly 360 sets of brothers have played professional football, and "only a handful of brothers have gone against each other," he said.
"They're going to have to butt heads, and I picture it that they will take it very seriously because they're both very competitive and very excited," he said. "I imagine they will carry themselves professionally all the way through until the final whistle and then be laughing and hugging each other after the game.
"This is maybe a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it's going to be special for all of us."
Howie Sr. said FOX came to him with the suggestion that he take the day off and attend the game. "They said, 'This is so special, so unique. We want you and Diane and your family to be there together,'" he said.
"[We've talked about] understanding the significance of the moment and taking a mental Polaroid in your head, to take a second and enjoy it because the next minute will be here quickly, and you don't know when you'll be down this road again. I know I'll be trying to take a Polaroid of this."
All three brothers agreed that, while their mother's football savvy is above reproach, Sunday's game might be toughest on her.
"I'm more than a little uneasy," Diane acknowledged. "My friends are like, 'Oh, your boys are playing against each other. How fun.' I don't know if it will exactly be fun. If they played positions that wouldn't normally have any physical contact, I might put it more in the fun category. I'd probably put this in more of the anxiety-ridden category."
She said she is sure there will be hugging between Chris and Kyle afterward and is almost as sure what will happen the first time the two line up opposite, or close to opposite, each other.
"Kyle can't keep a straight face, so he will have some weird smile on his face, and Chris is better at playing possum, so he'll probably have a mean mug," she said.
She also had one more prediction.
"I'm fairly certain," she said, "there won't be any 'your mother' jokes."