Chris Long on Feb. 2 stood on The Fox Theatre Stage and delivered a message that transcended the physical feats he achieved in his 11-year NFL career.
“You may doubt the significance of your work, but work faithfully anyways,” Long said, left hand stuffed in his pocket. “Work faithfully for people in your community, and for those of you may never meet, at home or in places you never go, and work faithfully to solve problems that may not be resolved in our lifetime.
Long delivered the speech in Atlanta, Georgia after winning the 2019 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. The night would serve as one of his final public appearances as a professional football player. Saturday evening, the Virginia legend announced his retirement in a Twitter post, alongside an image of him raising a red solo cup against a picturesque landscape.
Long spoke at John Paul Jones Arena earlier in the day during the Valedictory Exercises.
“Been a hell of a journey,” he wrote. “Eleven years and I can honestly say I put my soul into every minute of it. Highs and lows. I’ve seen them both and I appreciate the perspective. Gratitude and love to those who lifted me up.”
Cheers. Been a hell of a journey. Eleven years and I can honestly say I put my soul into every minute of it. Highs and lows. I’ve seen them both and I appreciate the perspective. Gratitude and love to those who lifted me up. pic.twitter.com/Ap8zi73Ifl— Chris Long (@JOEL9ONE) May 19, 2019
Long, the son of Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long, attended St. Anne’s-Belfield School in Charlottesville before beginning his college career at Virginia in 2004.
He was a standout his final three seasons for the Cavaliers, including in 2007 when he recorded 69 tackles,14 sacks, two forced fumbles and was recognized as a unanimous First Team All American. He also earned that year’s Hendricks Award, given annually to the top defensive end in the nation. Virginia retired Long’s No. 91 jersey on Nov. 24, 2007, making him the first active player to have his jersey retired.
Long was drafted No. 2 overall in the 2008 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams. He played for the Rams until the 2016 season, when he joined the New England Patriots and helped the team beat the Atlanta Falcons, 34-28, in Super Bowl LI.
He then signed a two-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles — helping the team beat the Patriots in Super Bowl LII — and made headlines when he announced he would donate his entire 2017 base salary to charity. Long donated his first six paychecks to fund scholarships in Virginia in the wake of the Unite the Right Rally.
Long often used his platform to speak out against social justice issues, and when Eagles teammate Malcolm Jenkins raised his fist during the national anthem on August 17, 2017, Long placed his hand on Jenkins' shoulder.
Long’s organization, Waterboys, aims to bring life-sustaining drinking water to communities in need.
“Gonna miss you bro,” Eagles guard Brandon Brooks wrote on Twitter. “You were by far one [of] the realest, most sincere teammates I’ve ever had.”