ST. LOUIS — Maybe it’s the Rams’ miserable 19-60-1 record since his arrival. Maybe it’s because he’s a lineman. Maybe it’s the limited media access in the NFL.
Or maybe I’ve been too busy covering baseball to notice. Whatever the reason, Chris Long isn’t as big a deal around here as he should be.
If he has been on any local TV commercials, I don’t remember them. If he has touted any products on radio, I haven’t heard about them. And check out his Twitter following, as reliable a metric as there is these days for measuring a young celebrity’s popularity.
Long remains short of 18,000 followers even after last week’s classic back and forth with 49ers fans. By comparison, Cardinals third baseman David Freese has more than 200,000 followers despite playing a sport that supposedly was kicked aside by the NFL long ago. Sure, Freese has been a hometown World Series hero and All-Star, but that wouldn’t seem to be enough reason to give him 10 times more followers than an NFL star who was the second pick in the 2008 draft.
Not to pick on Freese, as good a guy as you will find in pro sports, but his tweeting doesn’t measure up to Long’s. In volume, Long has tweeted more than twice as much. In subject matter, few athletes in any sport match Long’s attitude, humor and information in their 140-character takes.
You don’t have to follow Long very long to see he understands the upside and downside of social media.
“Twitter is where logic goes to die,” he said when asked why he was cutting back on using Twitter in the past. (Don’t worry; he’s all in again.)
As the son of Hall of Famer and longtime TV analyst Howie Long, Chris grew up around fame, fortune and the media. He knows how the game works. When he chided 49ers fans by tweeting how long it had been since San Francisco last beat the Rams (528 days at the time), he knew what would follow. He knew 49ers fans would be coming, and some with more vileness than others.
“On Twitter, people just completely disregard manners and the way they should talk to people,” Long says. “Some people were talking very recklessly to Cortland (Finnegan, who had criticized Craig Dahl, a former Ram turned 49er). I just reminded them of something. Boy, did I get a lot of interesting responses. That’s what Twitter is for. I like to have fun with it; otherwise, I wouldn’t be on it.”
Twitter can be useful in other ways, too. It recently helped his younger brother, Kyle, locate a place to work out in Chicago after he was drafted by the Bears. “That sounds like him,” Long says. “Always making friends.”
At 28 and the longest-tenured Ram since the departure of Steven Jackson, Long believes he has been around enough to earn the freedom to express himself.
“As a rookie you have a lot to prove,” he says. “People want to see you take care of business on the field, keep it pretty generic on social media. You wait till you get old like me to mix it up on there.”
He also has been around enough to know there are lines that should not be crossed.
“You have to have some common sense,” he says. “I like to have fun and give people a pretty accurate assessment of how I’m feeling. That’s my goal. I feel like I’ve been in the league long enough to do that. If they don’t like it, they don’t like it.”
You can find Long on Twitter at JOEL9ONE, a handle that needs an explanation. Just don’t expect much of one.
“Dude named Joel,” Long says. “It’s a mystery. He’s from my hometown. Works at a package store. Someone I look up to. That’s as far as we go. Joel doesn’t want to be talked about in the media.”
But he really works in a package store? “Yeah, he does.”
Long got off Twitter for a while but says offseason boredom led him back. With five-plus weeks still left before training camp, he’ll have plenty of idle time to share his thoughts on music, the NBA Finals, his teammates and, of course, to interact. He has no plans to stop anytime soon.
“Not unless it gets ridiculous,” he says. “But if one day I wake up and say I don’t want to be on Twitter anymore, I’ll just get off. I did that once. But who cares what I’m doing?”
If you ask me, not enough people as there should be.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at email@example.com.