When Chris Long studies video of the opposing offensive line this week, searching for tendencies and vulnerabilities, he can’t also help but notice strong plays by the Bears’ right guard.
And the Rams defensive end wells up with pride.
Long and younger brother Kyle play against each other for the first time Sunday, and their Hall of Fame father, Howie, will watch from a suite. The elder Long has always felt sympathy for another former NFL player, Archie Manning, when his quarterback sons face one another.
Yet the Longs will endure a true head-to-head tussle that the Mannings never can. Chris and Kyle will likely slam into each other along the line of scrimmage at least a few times in St. Louis.
Howie Long would normally be in a Los Angeles studio on a fall Sunday. His employer, Fox, insisted he take the day off, though Long will still briefly appear on air as the network televises the game. He’ll go from commentator to interviewee, from analyzing the story to part of the story.
Kyle, listed at 6-foot-6 and 311 pounds, has started every game as a rookie for Chicago. Chris, 6-3, 270, has 48½ sacks in six seasons for the Rams.
With an age gap of almost four years, the two have never shared the same field in uniform. Not surprisingly, these two large, competitive, athletic guys have tangled in plenty of “melees,” as Howie puts it.
Their worst fight, Kyle said, “probably had to do with something I may or may not have mumbled under my breath to my mom regarding taking the trash out.”
“I’m going to leave it at that,” he added. “I don’t talk back to my mom anymore, and I keep my distance from my brother when I’m being asked to do things.”
Kyle is happy to go into vivid detail about a rivalry at the family’s vacation home in Montana. The brothers try to see who can push a jeep 30 yards the fastest.
Kyle can even remember the exact times for last summer: He did it 9½ seconds, Chris in 11. Kyle was so pumped that he ignored exhaustion to sprint away in celebration, trash-talking the whole way. In this telling, Chris just sat on the ground, pouting.
Chris contends the differential was a half-second.
“When I adjusted the fact that he weighs 58 pounds more than me, maybe, I think I won,” he said. “That’s my claim, at least.”
Frequently during the season, one brother will get a 10-minute break between meetings and text the other.
Even this week.
“Why would that change?” Kyle said. “We’re still brothers. It might be a little more smack talk.”
There will be some of that between plays Sunday, too, he promised. Kyle plans to warn fellow rookie right tackle Jordan Mills, who will likely wrangle with Chris the most, what not to say to his brother.
“I’ve heard from his point of view of what offensive linemen can do to your psyche, and that kill switch comes on and nobody wants that to come on during the game,” Kyle said.
Watching and listening to his older brother over the years offered Kyle a how-to course in NFL life. Those jeep pushes aren’t just friendly competition but an example of necessary offseason workouts.
Kyle has always idolized Chris, which makes him think of a sports-referencing lyric in a song by rapper Drake: “And that’s around the time that your idols become your rivals.”
“It’s a blessing and it’s a curse,” Kyle said. “I know my mom and dad are going to be worried sick up there in the suite at the Jones Dome.”
Brotherly quarterback matchups get the most attention, but siblings have met in the trenches before, too. The second of three NFL generations of the Matthews family — Bruce, an offensive lineman, and Clay, a linebacker — regularly butted heads as divisional rivals in the 1980s and ’90s.
Howie remembers the message he always gave his three sons around the dinner table (Howie Jr. works for the Raiders) about the importance of family: “These people at the end of the day would jump in front of a bus to save you.”
The Longs have about 40 friends and relatives flying in for the game. Howie and his wife will do an interview from the stadium during Fox’s pregame show, when the elder Long would normally be opining on the afternoon’s matchups.
This time, he’ll be speaking as a parent, not an analyst.
“Fox NFL Sunday” producer Bill Richards said Howie had agreed to be shown in the suite a couple of times during the game, but the camera won’t be cutting to the father immediately after, say, Chris beats Kyle for a sack.
Richards recalled how the boys used to visit the set in their Halloween costumes, and how pregame colleague Terry Bradshaw is like an uncle to them. Viewers will have to judge whether the personal ties of this game seem endearing or awkward on air.
Richards promises if one of the Long brothers “messes up, you’ll hear about it.”
On a typical Sunday, Howie always keeps one eye glued to a monitor — or two — showing his sons’ games. He’d prefer to mostly avoid taking part in discussions about matchups involving the Rams and Bears.
He worries about his sons’ health but comforts himself that he taught them proper technique. Both Howie and Chris tried to push Kyle into baseball, well aware of football’s physical toll, and he initially decided to pitch at Florida State. Somehow he still wound up in the NFL, taking a circuitous route through a DUI arrest, academic troubles, junior college and just five starts at Oregon.
He’s such a natural, he was the 20th pick of the first round of this year’s draft.
Chris made a far more direct trip, drafted with the second overall selection in 2008 out of Virginia. Kyle had to live up to the pressure of following both Howie and Chris. Then again, at least he doesn’t play the same position as his father, who starred at defensive end for the Raiders from 1981-93.
Howie and Chris most appreciate Sunday’s moment because of Kyle’s unlikely presence in it.
“He’s messed up once or twice and gotten knocked down once or twice and taken a long path,” Chris said. “But, heck, for a guy that’s been at one college and a juco and changed sports and played one year of major college football, he’s doing a hell of a 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.”
AP Sports Writer Andrew Seligman in Lake Forest, Ill., contributed to this report.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org