Column

Long journey pits Eagles defensive end Chris Long against his former team, the Rams

From the start of his NFL career, when the St. Louis Rams made him the second pick in the 2008 draft, Chris Long has had fame, fortune and something else.

A gnawing belief there was more to life than this.

“He’s always been an old soul,” said his father, Howie, a Hall of Fame defensive lineman for the Raiders and a football commentator for the last two-plus decades. “He had a real definitive sense of right and wrong, an understanding that there are people who are less fortunate.

“Early in his career, I remember him calling me one night and he was talking about wanting his life to have an impact, wanting his life to have a meaning.”

Chris Long, who will face his old team Sunday as a first-year member of the Philadelphia Eagles, now has a Super Bowl ring and a far firmer grip on his sense of purpose.

Although he has three sacks and two forced fumbles as a backup defensive end for the 10-2 Eagles, Long is making more news these days for what he’s doing off the field.

He donated his first six game checks to fund scholarships to a private middle and high school in his hometown of Charlottesville, Va. He then decided to donate the remainder of his $1 million salary — his final 10 checks — to organizations that support educational equality in the three cities where he has spent his 10-year career: St. Louis, Boston and Philadelphia. The campaign is called “Pledge 10 for Tomorrow,” a nod to the 10 paychecks and his decade in the league.

During a break from Eagles practice at Angel Stadium this week, Long said he was initially conflicted about the decision because he wanted to effect change but was uncomfortable about seizing the spotlight.

“I wrestled with that a lot,” he said. “There was definitely a lot of anxiety with me releasing it. The first couple days, everybody was probably thinking, ‘Man, don’t you feel good about what you’re doing?’ And I kind of felt like crap about it. I felt like a lot of people were misunderstanding me initially and thinking it was a publicity thing, when for me I’m very pragmatic about wanting to make a difference.

“I want to be efficient, and I want to get a return on my investment. So the fact that we’ve raised $750,000 outside of the money I’ve put in is evidence of why I did it. That number will keep growing.

“If I just donated my salary, or the equivalent of that in a couple years when I’m not playing, I’m not going to get any return on that. Then I’m just a rich guy donating money, which has been done a thousand times.”

Long has another foundation, Waterboys, which raises funds to build sustainable water wells in Africa. Last spring, he was part of a group including then-UCLA football coach iJim Mora that made a six-day, 50-mile trek up Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest peak, , as part of that effort.

“Kilimanjaro is kind of a metaphor for Chris’ life,” his father said. “It’s, what’s the next mountain? What’s the next thing to conquer?”

The 6-foot-3, 270-pound Long looks like a new-age version of his dad, with the same piercing stare and chiseled jawline, Chris’ covered in a neatly trimmed beard. He was a fixture on a dominating Rams defensive line, the best unit on a team that averaged 4.9 victories a year in his eight seasons.

“Playing eight years, never making the playoffs, you feel like you’re running on a treadmill that’s going nowhere,” he said. “You’re like, ‘Is this it? Is this all football is?’ I just said I’ve got to step up what I do with my platform. I’ve got to make this all worthwhile.”

The Rams released Long in early 2016 after two injury-shortened seasons, denying him a chance to play in the city where his father rose to silver-and-black stardom. But Long, who went on to win a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots last season, harbors no ill will.

“If I never got cut, I wouldn’t have the Super Bowl ring,” he said. “So I’m not one of those guys who’s upset. I love those dudes that I played with, a lot of people that I still talk to on a regular basis who are there. If I didn’t play like crap, I wouldn’t have gotten cut. If I didn’t get hurt, I wouldn’t have gotten cut.”

When it comes to the Rams, the admiration is mutual.

All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald said Long is “like a big brother.”

Said fellow Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers: “When we see him on Sunday it’s going to be some smiles on the field because we’re both on good teams. We living life now. We’re in paradise.”

Echoed edge rusher Robert Quinn: “Chris is a great guy, as you can see what he’s done this year with the charities and stuff but not only that, he was a great teammate. He was about laughs and jokes but when it was time to be about business he was ready to be about business.”

But, Quinn conceded, “It’s just going to be a little weird, just I guess it’s been what two years? ... I mean happy for him and it’s going to be a weird little day come Sunday.”

Long said it won’t be as weird for him, even though he’ll be playing against his old team, in his father’s old stadium, with his dad at the game because Fox has taken its Sunday studio show on the road because of the magnitude of the NFC showdown.

After all, Long played against the Rams at Foxborough, Mass., last season. What’s more, he won’t feel nearly as conflicted as he did two weeks ago when he played against his younger brother, Kyle, a guard for the Chicago Bears. The Eagles won, 31-3.

“It sucks,” Chris Long said of lining up against his brother, who was placed on injured reserve this week. “There’s nothing good about it. This year was a little easier than the first year we played each other, because he was a rookie. He’s grown up a lot. I’m really proud of my brother.”

Life is more than football, as Long clearly understands.

“As parents, the thing you try to do is set the best example you can and act in a way that can hopefully inspire your kids,” his father said. “At the end of the day, if you’re fortunate, it comes full circle and your son ends up teaching you and inspiring you.”

sam.farmer@latimes.com

Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer

Times staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this report.​​​​​​​

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