EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Astronaut sloth. Those are the two words I typed into Google on Wednesday afternoon not quite sure what was going to pop up.
Under normal circumstances, I'd probably have viewed that internet search query as strange, but given that it came at the behest of St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long, it really didn't seem too far out of line.
“There's this astronaut sloth, look it up,” Long said Wednesday afternoon. “We thought it was pretty funny.”
In this case, “we” refers to Chris and Kyle Long, the two brothers who will share the same stage on Sunday afternoon at the Edward Jones Dome. Chris, the hard charging and relentless Rams defensive end and Kyle, the powerful and nasty Bears right guard.
Much has already been made of the matchup of the brothers who will likely run into each other on occasion Sunday afternoon. Most everybody already knows about their famous father Howie, the Hall of Famer, who will attend the game.
It's also not difficult to figure out what to expect from the duo in terms of playing style and ability. Both Chris and Kyle are former first-round picks. The Long family legacy dictates the passionate-through-the-echo-of-the-whistle, refuse-to-be-outworked ethos put forth by both brothers and their father before them.
What may be lost in the mix of the discussion of the rare occasion for two brothers to face off in the NFL is that the Long brothers bring much more to the table than their considerable football talents.
In today's NFL where self-awareness and personality are hard to find, the league and, by extension the media and fans, is lucky to have a pair of brothers who bring both in heavy doses.
And so we arrive at astronaut sloths. Or elaborate Smack Cam pranks. Or hilarious Twitter exchanges. The list goes on and on.
When Chris and Kyle Long communicate, the discussion rarely turns to football. More often than not, Chris is sending Kyle a meme with a picture of a sloth in some scenario he finds amusing and words meant to serve as the thoughts of the sloth.
There's the picture of a sloth talking to a human, followed by whatever words Chris wants to attach to the situation. Then, as the Google search revealed, there's the one of the sloth dressed as an astronaut, a personal favorite of the brothers.
“It's stupid, but Chris is stupid and I'm stupid, so it's funny,” Kyle Long said. “You guys obviously know how he operates and we both march to our own beat and they're both different. We love the funny side of things.”
The astronaut sloth is such a big hit among the Long boys, Howie Jr., the youngest of the three brothers is also included, that they went the extra step of having T-shirts printed up with a picture of the astronaut sloth accompanied by the slogan “We did it” in big, bold letters.
“We thought it was funny so we just got these t shirts made,” Chris Long said. “We both have pretty big sense of humor. We do something funny all the time or something we think is funny.”
Even when it comes to sibling rivalry, things can never get too serious. During the summer as the brothers trained on the family land in Montana, Chris and Kyle began a truck-pushing competition soon after Chris had handily defeated Kyle in a simple long distance run.
After the brothers had pushed what Kyle referred to as a “Jeep on steroids,” the competitive juices began flowing and Howie got up and began drawing starting and finishing lines. The course was about 20 yards to Kyle's recollection and they decided to push it once for time. No prizes on the line other than family bragging rights.
Chris covered the ground in about 10 seconds. Kyle did it in about 9.8, claiming a rare victory over his big brother.
“So, that's my claim to fame,” Kyle Long said. “And he was pissed.”
Conveniently (and not surprisingly), Chris doesn't remember it quite so vividly.
“I forgot about it,” Chris Long said. “When I adjusted the formula to incorporate his mass, I actually won the competition. He outweighs me by about 50 pounds and beat me by .6 seconds but I had forgotten all about it.”
The Long brothers took different paths to reach Sunday's contest. Chris was the All American from Virginia who was a standout at every level.
“He was great as a role model for us,” Kyle Long said. “He showed us that we could go to school, that we could succeed academically, athletically -- you name it. His ability to have relationships with people, he's a great person, as you guys know. He's got a great sense of humor. He's a smart guy. He's somebody that I could look up to and that I could try to emulate.”
Kyle took a more circuitous path with plenty of stops and starts along the way.
“I'm just really proud of him,” Chris Long said. “I know how much hard work this takes. I know how much pressure there is on us in general just with our dad and who he is. There's going to be a lot of people that doubt you that say you are not earning it and this, that and the other thing. He's had a few bumps in the road and he's been able to fight through that on top of all that. He plays hard. I love the way he plays the game. If I were to step back and see who is No. 75 for the Bears and it wasn't my brother, I'd say I like the way this guy plays so that's the best compliment I can give him.”
Make no mistake, amidst all the jokes and fun, the Long brothers are witty and intelligent, quick to make observations that make you stop and think. They're also heavily involved in their respective communities. And, of course, they're extremely talented football players.
Earlier this week, Kyle and Chris took a break from the sloth memes and reflected a little on the hard work they've put in to reach the point where they can share an NFL field as opponents on a Sunday afternoon.
Now might be as good a time as any for everyone else to stop and realize that the league is a better place because they did.