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Chris Long’s Eagles career was unlike any other

NFL: NFC Championship-Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes you just had to be there. Chris Long’s Eagles career was, on paper, nothing special. He started just one game, recorded a respectable 11.5 sacks in 32 regular season games, never had a turnover in the regular season. On paper, he was a solid but unspectacular backup. On paper.

But Chris Long is and was so much more than just what’s on the paper. As an Eagle, backup defensive end was just a job title, and job titles are often misleading. His 2017 season was unbelievable, and most of his accomplishments happened away from the game. It’s rare that a non-star player can change the zeitgeist, but Chris Long did. Consider the following, all of which you already know but were of the moment and but will need context to be fully understood a generation later:

August of 2017 was a boiling point in racial relations in America. Chris Long took a stand. In the wake of the white supremacist riots in Charlottesville, where Long played in high school and college, he donated his game checks for the first six games of the season to a scholarship fund. For the remaining 10 games of that season, his 10th in the league, he also donated his game checks to charity, and raised an additional $400,000 for those charities. He played the entire 2017 regular season for free. And those were just a part of the charity work that Long has done and continues to do.

That season was the peak of the national anthem protests by black players in the NFL. Until then, no white player had protested, the anthem was a dividing line. In a preseason game a week after the Charlottesville riots, Long became the first white player to protest the anthem when he made a simple but powerful move of putting his arm around Malcolm Jenkins in solidarity of Jenkins’ raised fist protest.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

In the playoffs, he helped write Eagles history. The Eagles win over the Falcons in the divisional round was exhilarating, going down to the last play of the game. But it is best remembered for the legend that was born immediately after the game. Out of nowhere Long and Lane Johnson donned German shepherd dog masks that turned the Eagles being underdogs in that game and every playoff game into a rallying cry.

And then, just when it seemed like the clock was about to strike midnight on the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game, he hit Case Keenum, causing Patrick Robinson’s pick six, and the Eagles never looked back in a romp over the Vikings.

And for 2018, he was deservedly named the Walter Payton Man of the Year.

A generation from now, we’ll have to explain Chris Long to younger fans for them to fully understand him. That’s okay. One day they’ll have their own players who come along and can’t be summed up on a stat sheet that they’ll then have to explain. You had to be there to truly appreciate Chris Long’s tenure as an Eagle. We were there, and we are better for it. Thank you Chris.