Long brothers brace for first meeting in Bears-Rams game
BY PATRICK FINLEY Staff Reporter November 20, 2013 9:21PM
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Updated: November 21, 2013 12:12PM
He was tired of folding shirts and selling surf wax and putting together skateboards.
Kyle Long was a world away from his home in Virginia, and from Florida State, the school he moved to with soon-shattered baseball dreams.
Sitting in his apartment — he worked at Jack’s Surfboards in Newport Beach, Calif., after going to rehab in Arizona — Kyle took out a coin.
“I was just sitting around talking to my buddy,” he said, “coming up with big plans I didn’t think would fall through.”
If it landed on heads, Kyle would use his head and try to become a left-handed, flame-throwing baseball player.
Tails, he would try to kick tail in football, the sport that provided fortune to father Howie and brother Chris and that earned Kyle high school All-America honors.
“Man, I love baseball,” he said, “but, gosh, I wanna hit people really bad.”
You’ll hear the question all week: What are the odds of the Bears’ rookie right guard facing off against brother Chris, the Rams’ star defensive end, on Sunday?
Even after winning the bloodline lottery — their dad had a Hall of Fame career with the Raiders — what are the chances of brothers making it in a league that spits out dreams like a mouthguard?
We’ll start here, then: What were the odds of the coin landing on tails?
Kyle wasn’t pressured into playing football.
His dad and brother wanted him to play baseball, jealous of a sport that saved him the daily pounding of the defensive-end position they dominated.
“It’s not easy, no matter what anybody tries to tell you, being the son of a Hall of Famer,” Chris said.
“And then when you add being my little brother, for whatever that’s worth, that can be difficult, too.
“Whatever pressure I think I’ve been under, he was kinda under double that — or maybe one-point-five that.”
Chris had a more direct path to the NFL.
He starred at Virginia, 10 miles from the Longs’ hometown of Ivy, Va., before being chosen second in the 2008 NFL draft.
“When Chris went to college, we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if he gets on the field?’ ” Howie said. “Three years later, three-quarters of the stadium is wearing his jersey and chanting his name.”
His family used to laugh at how naturally talented Kyle was at both sports.
“Kyle’s greatest gifts were his biggest problems,” Howie said. “He could never make up his mind on what he wanted to do. I’ve always felt like he cheated baseball and he cheated football to a certain extent.”
Kyle chose baseball first, turning down a White Sox contract to enroll at FSU.
“There was never any competition,” Kyle said. “[Chris] couldn’t hit a curveball, and I could hit one out of the park.
“He could drive-block a 340-pound guy and get a sack on every play, and I couldn’t do that.”
Before he could throw a college pitch, though, Kyle left FSU, five days after receiving a DUI charge on Jan. 4, 2009.
He went to rehab in Arizona and then, after the coin flip, enrolled at Saddleback College to play football.
He spent his senior season at Oregon, starting his last five games. The Bears drafted him in the first round.
“We’d both found our niche,” Kyle said, “and suddenly I fell into football.”
The Longs have never been on the same field, in uniform, before.
They’ve competed, sure: in the driveway of their vacation home in Montana, timing how long it took to push a Jeep with mud tires 30 yards.
Kyle beat his brother this summer, sprinting to the lake and jumping in.
He tells the story with a smile; in a staring contest with Chris, Kyle would be the first to crack up.
“Kyle’s a sweetheart,” his dad said. “But then there’s that — and you never know when he’s going to do it — if something hits a switch, he’s hard to bring back.”
Kyle has learned to channel his energy.
“He’s messed up once or twice and got knocked down once or twice and taken the long path,” Chris said. “But, heck, for a guy that’s been at one college then a JuCo then changed sports and played one year of major-college football, he’s doing a helluva job.
“I’ve just been proud of the way he’s handled everything and the man he is. It really has nothing to do with football for me.
“But I’m just really proud — because I know how hard this job is.”
Chris and the family just wanted Kyle to be happy, with or without sports.
“He wanted me to figure it out,” Kyle said. “He always does a good job of letting things run their course in my life and being there just in case I need any help, if I have any questions.”
There’s a lyric in a Drake song Kyle likes, about the time “your idols become your rivals.”
That’s happening Sunday.
“People would usually think my dad would be my idol, but my older brother is somebody that I’ve idolized,” he said. “I try to emulate things he does on and off the field.”
Still, he said, it’s a “blessing and a curse” — his parents will be worried sick watching the boys hit each other.
Chris will rush against right tackle Jordan Mills, but Rams coach Jeff Fisher joked he’ll beg to line up over Kyle for the first play.
“My answer’s probably no,” Fisher said.
During timeouts on Sundays, Kyle looks up to the scoreboard for Rams updates. Sunday, he’ll just look across the field.
What are the odds?
“It’s like going to the 7 Eleven and getting a Lotto ticket,” Howie said, “and hitting that.”