When he bro-hugged Roger Goodell in April 2008 and pulled on his St. Louis Rams hat, Chris Long didn’t know he’d just signed on for eight seasons of hard, lucrative but unfulfilling labor.
But he did. And while Long isn’t relieving himself on the franchise and city he was a big part of, he is undeniably relieved to be moving on as a New England Patriot.
“Obviously, the Rams thought it was time to move in a different direction and I wasn’t … let’s just say I wasn’t bent out of shape about it,” Long said on a noontime conference call with New England media. “It was time for me to move on as well.”
The former No. 2 overall pick has never played in a playoff game. The Rams finished in last place five of the eight seasons he was there. The past two years, he was able to play in just 18 of their 32 games because of injuries. He’s in New England on a one-year deal that’s paying him relative peanuts compared to what he made in St. Louis.
He sounds like he wants the season to star now.
“The last eight years have been difficult,” he acknowledged. “I’m motivated to be the best me I can be and try to help. When I entered free agency I said, ‘Whatever team I wind up on, I’m gonna work … I’ve worked as hard as humanly possible over the past eight years but I’m gonna find the next gear, whatever it is.’ I’m very energized just being a part of this thing so, the past eight years is the past and the future’s unwritten for 32 teams. Everybody’s gotta earn it and individually earn opportunities. For me, my history in the league, that eight years, it was rough but there’s a lot of worse things I could be doing. I look at the opportunity to play football as a blessing and what doesn’t kill you certainly makes you stronger.”
The son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Howie Long, Chris was 13 on the July weekend in 2000 when his father was inducted into Canton. Also inducted that weekend, Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott. Also there? The Patriots and 49ers with Bill Belichick coaching his first game since being fired by the Browns in 1995 and Tom Brady playing in his first NFL game.
“I have great memories from when my Pops got inducted,” said Chris Long. “Obviously, how hard he worked in pro football for so long and what he sacrificed on the physical side of it with the injuries and the grinding and now, eight years into the NFL, (I) know what hard work that is and him doing it for 13 years at the level he did, even as a 13-year-old kid when it happened I understood the magnitude of what it meant for somebody professionally and yeah, I faintly remember the game but I was so focused on helping my dad enjoy the moment. That was a special thing.”
Long is just one of a few recognizable names the Patriots added this offseason along with Terrance Knighton, Shea McClellin, Martellus Bennett and Donald Brown.
“It’s interesting,” Long said of the rest of the free agent class. “You look around and you’re certainly overwhelmed with excitement to be a part of the New England Patriots and then when you see even more guys of that caliber, it’s exciting. We’ll see. The entire team chemistry seems awesome. I don’t know why those other guys wouldn’t be great as well and everyone will mesh well and we’re all working toward the same goal.”
A goal that – after eight seasons in NFL purgatory – suddenly seems attainable.