Maybe the craziest Kyle Long fact of all is that his football career started because he was “tired of stocking the shoe room.”
That was 10 years ago, and Long was 21. Then, playing at Saddleback College in California, not only did he switch from defensive end to guard (which I’m sure never comes up in the Long household), but he picked it up so effortlessly that Pac-12 powerhouse Oregon offered him a scholarship after one season of JuCo ball. Playing on the offensive line against D-1 talent for the first time, Long started six of 12 games for the Ducks before being taken 20th overall in the 2013 NFL Draft.
But anyways, how’s your early-20s hobby going?
“We think the world of [Long],” Ryan Pace said at the Bears’ end-of-season press conference. “It’s unfortunate he’s had a handful of injuries. He’s tried to battle through all of them.”
Those injuries are why, 10 years later, Long is hanging it up. Turns out, there’s not a whole lot of individual accomplishments left after earning three different Pro Bowl selections and a spot on the team-sanctioned Top 100 Bears of All-Time list.
Unfortunately -- not to mention unfairly — it’s his time spent off the field that dominates the conversation these days. Long played 16 games only twice (2013 and 2015 seasons) and hadn’t played in more than 10 since 2015. His labrum, triceps, foot, ankle and shoulder all failed him at one point or another along the way, and the collective toll outweighed another grueling offseason of rehab.
"Some Chicagoans are probably happy to hear I'm finally stepping away and getting my body right," Long tweeted. "Some Chicagoans may be sad to hear this. Either way u feel about it, I want u to know how lucky I am to have spent time in your city. I became a man while playing in Chicago. Thank you."
The end of Long’s career was objectively hard to watch; you don’t often see someone getting placed on IR after playing a full game just days before. But like Long tweeted, the writing was on the wall. At his peak, though, Long was not only one of the best players on the Bears, but one of the premier offensive linemen in football. According to Pro Football Focus, he graded as an elite or above-average NFL starter in every year from his rookie season in 2013 through 2017.
He’s also entertaining as hell, bringing his energy to both Halas Hall and The Web. The Bears’ locker room isn’t short on vocal leaders anymore, but it was Long who stood up and talked for teammates while the team limped to various third- and fourth-place finishes in the NFC North. This past summer, in the span of a month, Long got kicked out of practice for fighting AND went full-frontal (accidentally, which cannot be stressed enough) on Tarik Cohen’s Instagram without so much as one preachy column about Athletes These Days.
He’s also more Logged On than his brother, retired NFL star Chris Long, which is arguably more of an accomplishment than the Pro Bowl at this point. The way Kyle used Twitter to hint at his retirement was a master class in content creation. He’s got a future in media should he want it.
As for Long's on-field ability at his peak, fellow O-lineman Charles Leno Jr. summed it up best.
"I told him I've seen how dominant he was,” Leno said after the Bears’ put Long on IR. “Literally seen him pick 350-pound guys up off the ground. That's really hard to do if you guys don't know. He would do that consistently. It just really sucks because I remember what he used to do and I just wanted to always get him back there.”