November 16, 2021 By Whitelaw Reid, wdr4d@virginia.edu

Alumnus Chris Long Talks Education, Podcasts and This Year’s Super Bowl Favorites

A couple years after retiring from the NFL, former UVA football star Chris Long is keeping busy with a wide range of endeavors.

A lot of people struggle to find enough to do in retirement, but former University of Virginia football star Chris Long – who retired from the NFL in 2018 after winning Super Bowls with the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles – doesn’t seem to be one of them.

Whether it’s his continued efforts in recruiting NFL and NBA players to help provide clean water in Africa, serving as the keynote speaker at UVA’s Valedictory Exercises in 2018, sourcing meals from local restaurants to distribute to members of the Charlottesville community who had food shortages during the pandemic, co-hosting a sports podcast or, most recently, starting a new initiative called EdZone, Long is as busy as ever.

UVA Today caught up with Long earlier this week.

Q. For UVA Today readers who may not have heard about EdZone, can you explain what it is, how it came about, what you’re hoping to accomplish and perhaps how the UVA community can get involved?

A. The way I would liken what we’re doing with EdZone is, from a football metaphor standpoint, if I was asked to go out and play without my shoulder pads, could I do it? No, I can’t. It’s like kids not being able to go to school without a coat in the winter. It’s kids with no socks. It’s kids with no hygiene products – like not being able to brush your teeth before you go to school. These are things that don’t always connect directly to the Xs and Os, but they’re inextricably linked. 

If you’re a kid who’s worried about being bullied at school because you don’t have shoes or you have bad breath because you haven’t brushed your teeth or you maybe can’t afford all these very basic necessities, you’re not going to be able to learn. It’s hard enough to learn, and so whether it’s books, or a coat, or it’s shoes – we have to get these items in the hands of kids.

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We’re working in Charlottesville City Schools. All six of these schools we’re working in, we’re trying to get these closets in the schools filled with the essentials that kids need in order to have a shot to learn.

It’s just giving kids a chance to play, because you can’t expect kids to be their best when they don’t have their best. When I was in school, I had the best, I had everything. … I can only imagine going to school when you don’t have what you need to succeed. So EdZone is attacking the foundational part of this whole process.

We’ve gotten off to a good start – we already funded three closets, and they all cost like $24,000. Our goal is to be in six Charlottesville City Schools by next August. We’re doing it in Charlottesville first, but also in Philly, St. Louis, places I’ve played.

(Readers interested in donating to EdZone or other initiatives Long is involved with can do so here.)

Q. You’ve enjoyed a lot of success with “The Green Light Podcast,” which focuses on the NFL and sports, but also delves into lots of other things. What do you think separates it from other podcasts out there and what are your long-term goals for it?

A. The long-term goal for the pod is just sustained growth. I didn’t get in it for the money. The money’s nice, but I didn’t get in it for the money. I got in it for the autonomy and to have something that I enjoy grinding at every day and being creative. And a lot of what makes that for me is being able to do that with a buddy [UVA alumnus Macon Gunter] who I grew up with. … If you look out at the crowded media space, I just don’t know of a lot of shows where like the two [hosts] grew up together. Having the familiarity of someone you know and trust – it’s the best thing about doing media for me. I don’t actually feel like I’m working sometimes.

Long starred at UVA before going on to an 11-year NFL career. (Photo by Matt Riley, UVA Athletics)

We’ve had sponsorships, but nobody telling us what to do. When you listen to our podcasts, you opt in. You have sought it out and opted in, like this is an early stage of a podcast and we’re not on a platform. Everyone who’s listening is there on their own volition – that’s a fun thing and I want it to stay that way. … I’d rather have five people listening to the podcast who are zealots who grew through the early years with us when we [stunk] and didn’t know what we were doing than 10 people and only four of them are interested in your stuff. So we want to grow fast, but with the right audience and the right people who really love your stuff. I’m not in it to break the bank; I’m in to have a bunch of people who love our pod, and that’s what motivates us.

Q. What are your thoughts on the UVA football team as they prepare for their final two games of the regular season?

A. Nobody liked losing to Notre Dame like that, but that’s a pro-looking team. I was down on the sideline and they’re physically in a different place.

But all things considered, with all the problems we’ve had on defense, we have a chance to win the ACC. I know that with Clemson being down, I think it’s really imperative to take advantage of this time. I mean, an ACC championship is an ACC championship. You’re going to have to go through a great team to win it, no matter who that is. There are some good teams in the ACC this year, they’re just not nationally renowned teams. You have to take advantage of this window. I’m sure if you’re Bronco [Mendenhall] and this team, you see the window. Because that can really propel recruiting, national recognition, the whole thing. … Everything is still in front of them.

Q. Putting you on the spot here: We’re roughly halfway through the NFL season. If you had to pick the two teams who will be playing in the Super Bowl right now, who would you go with?

A. You know what, it changes every month. People are like, “You changed your mind.” I’m like, “Yeah, because teams are playing differently” [laughing]. I picked the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl at the start of the year. A month later, my pick wasn’t the same…

But right now, there are two teams in the NFC, and this is good for the NFL, that have the best chance. I think it’s probably the Packers and the Cowboys to get there. These are big-market teams and I think it’s good for the league. My biggest question mark with Dallas was would [Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott’s] calf be OK? He looked really good [Sunday]. And with the Packers, I can believe in their defense, and the physicality of that team has been better. The last two years, I wouldn’t have bet a dollar on them to win the Super Bowl.

On the other side, I have no idea. I think the Bills, as bad as they’ve played, are going to figure things out and be really tough to beat. … I think there that there are like 10 teams that could win the Super Bowl right now. It’s very wide-open, and all the teams that are good have flaws.

Q. Do you miss playing all?

A. Sundays sometimes … like third down on Sundays [chuckle]. But yeah, no, I’m in a good place. …

I knew I worked hard, but I had no idea how hard I was pushing myself and how normalized it is to like take yourself to a different level. And when you’re in it, you’re like, “If a fan was as athletic as me, that fan could do it.” But I got to give us some credit. We worked our [butts] off for a long time. It’s just hard to imagine doing the things that we used to do – and then the hits.

You can sit at home and watch games and think, “Oh I still got it,” but going to a game and sitting at field level or even walking around recruits on the field like at the Notre Dame [game], I’m like, “Damn, it’s y’all’s time, man. I mean, little ol’ me, I’m done.”

Q. How did you become such a big New York Knicks fan?

A. Honestly, all the seats were taken on the [Chicago] Bulls bandwagon. You know, a kid that moves to Virginia at 8 years old from L.A. – I was never a Lakers fan. I realized there was some orange and blue here, and then on top of that, I just loved more than anything the physicality and toughness of those [1990s Knicks] teams. There were a couple of teams that I rooted for with all my heart when I was kid, and the Knicks were one of them; the [Carolina] Panthers were another.

I’m still a Knicks fan and one that is pretty [darn] good at keeping my expectations low. It’s better to exceed them.

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Whitelaw Reid

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications