SAINT PAUL, Minn. – They won football's ultimate prize last February and are zeroing in on a repeat performance this Sunday night in Minnesota. Only this time, running back LeGarrette Blount and defensive end Chris Long will be wearing the dark green of Philadelphia rather than the blue and white of New England.
During Super Bowl LII Opening Night festivities in the Twin Cities, both men conceded that the opportunity is bittersweet, for in order to be crowned champions again, they'll have to vanquish the team that allowed them to resurrect their once-fading NFL careers.
"Yeah, it is unusual," Blount remarked Monday, "but it's a blessing to be able to play in this game again and have the chance to win three rings. I came to Philly with the expectation of being able to play in this game. We've got a game to play, a game that we want to win, and the same for them. We don't have time to walk down memory lane this week."
"It brings back a lot of memories," countered Long. "I had a great year with those guys. I was really lucky to be there, but at the end of the day, in this business, people move around. I was only there a year, but… when you win a championship with somebody, it creates a bond that's going to last a lifetime. So, it's interesting to play those guys."
Long, chosen No. 2 overall by the Rams in 2008, started all 16 games in five of his first six seasons and averaged more than eight sacks per year during that span. By 2015, though, his role with the Rams had sharply declined to the point that Long was released following that season. He signed with the Patriots shortly thereafter, becoming a vital component of the Patriots' front-seven rotation last year.
The undrafted Blount, meanwhile, after a brief stint with Tennessee, eventually found a rookie home in Tampa Bay, where, in 2010, he rushed for more than 1,000 yards. His productivity diminished over the next two seasons, leading the Buccaneers to deal him to New England in 2013.
Blount actually left New England once before for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, but his 2014 stay with Pittsburgh lasted less than a season, and he was soon back with the Patriots. He helped them win their fourth Lombardi Trophy later that year and, soon after turning 30 years old last season, set a Patriots record with 18 rushing touchdowns. This year, Blount led the Eagles in rushing with 766 yards.
With the Patriots, Long also demonstrated that, even in his 30s, he could contribute in a meaningful role. However, both men's contracts expired after the Super Bowl LI and the Patriots allowed them to pursue other offers around the NFL. Both wound up in the City of Brotherly Love, which seems appropriate. Long got their first and recruited Blount to join him.
Though he started just one game this year, Long recorded five sacks – one higher than his 2016 total with the Patriots. As head coach Bill Belichick acknowledged last week, this is a reflection, perhaps, of Long's skill set being better suited for Philadelphia's system than New England's was.
"In the end," added Belichick, "he probably has a better fit there for his skills and for this point in his career than maybe we had for him. I understand that. He probably made a good decision. He probably did. Not that it wouldn't have worked out here… maybe it couldn't have worked out here. I don't know. It certainly has worked out well for him there, just like it worked out well for him here last year."
"I love Coach [Belichick], man," Long said Monday. "He taught me so much about football in one year. I don't think I'll every look at the game the same."
Their former teammates in Foxborough still regard Long and Blount with considerable affection, as several Patriots made plain last week, and the feeling, apparently, is mutual.
"I'm not a guy that's going to go radio-silent on my buddies," declared Long. "I talk to those guys throughout the year. I'll talk to them for a couple of days here and then probably shut the phone off."
Make no mistake – Long and Blount learned from and appreciate their Super Bowl experiences with the Patriots. They understand better now that while there's a time and place for fun and games and personal relationships, those must be set aside as kickoff approaches for a chance to make history again.
"Just take it all in, enjoy it, but at the same time, know that you come here for a job. This is a business trip," Blount emphasized. "We've been underdogs this whole postseason. We don't expect it to change, especially with the New England Patriots. It's not going to be an easy task."
"It's going to be a great football game," Long predicted.