Many a Super Bowl MVP, starting with New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms back in 1987, have, in the moments after winning the award, answered the question “What’s Next” by proclaiming “I’m going to Disney World!” Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long did not win the MVP of Super Bowl LII (backup QB turned hero Nick Foles did) but, if he was asked the “What’s Next” question, his answer would’ve been “Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to draw attention to the East Africa water crisis.”
Chris Long is having quite a last 13 months, on and off the field. Let’s review:
- February 2017: Earned his first Super Bowl ring, playing a key role as a defensive end for the New England Patriots in their epic comeback from a 28-3 deficit to win Super Bowl LI, 34-28 over the Atlanta Falcons.
- March 2017: Long and a group of 11 hearty souls, including retired NFL players, took Long’s “Conquering Kili Challenge,” climbing 19,000 foot Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania as part of his Waterboys.org initiative. As detailed in a May, 2017 GreenSportsBlog post, Waterboys 1) raises awareness of the fresh water crisis in East Africa, 2) funds the digging of wells in the area — 32 to date — one for each NFL team — and 3) teaches the locals how to do the digging and maintaining. This was Long’s second ascent of Kilimanjaro
Video highlights of 2017’s “Conquering Kili Challenge”
- March 2017: Signed an effective two year, $4.5 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, citing the Cheesesteaks’ scheme as being a better fit for his skill set.
- October 2017: Donated his entire 2017 base salary of $1 million to benefit educational charities in the three cities in which he’s played during his 10-year NFL career — St. Louis (formerly the home of the Rams), Boston, Philadelphia — as well as to fund scholarships to a private middle and high school in his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. “In my 10th year, I want to celebrate the awesome opportunity I’ve had to play football by giving back to the communities that have given me that gift,” Long said in a statement. “Educational opportunity and equity are the best gateway to a better tomorrow for everyone in America.”
- December 2017: Strongly shut down critics of then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to protest police violence against people of color by taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem in 2016. Here is one of Long’s several December 22 tweets on the subject: “ZERO interest in being used as the anti-Colin. I support Colin’s right to protest, and what he’s protesting. He deserves a job in the NFL. He’s donated as much $ as I have to social causes.” The 49ers chose to part ways from Kaepernick, 30, after the 2016 season and none of the remaining 31 NFL teams chose to offer him a contract. Kaepernick sued the NFL and its owners for collusion — that suit is still pending.
- February 2018: Wins his second consecutive Super Bowl ring, helping the Philadelphia Eagles hoist the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in team history. In case you’ve been under a rock the past month, the Eagles defeated his former team, the Patriots, 41-33, in what became instant classic.
Chris Long, after winning Super Bowl LII with the Philadelphia Eagles (Photo credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
- February 2018: Three weeks after winning Super Bowl LII, Long and his climbing mates “Conquer Kili” again!
This time around, Long and trip co-skipper, former U.S. Army Green Beret Nate Boyer, led a team of 12 — plus video crew — on the climb. Rams linebacker and eco-athlete Connor Barwin became the first active NFLer other than Long to take part. While he was with the Eagles, Barwin, a supporter of Waterboys for the past two seasons, rode his bike and/or took mass transit to work and helped install solar panels on roofs in South Jersey. And, in another “Conquering Kili” first, a professional athlete from a sport other than football joined the group: Professional MMA fighter Justin Wren is a long time advocate for clean water through his work with the Mbuti Pygmies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
As far as Long is concerned, I cannot wrap my head around the idea that he could climb Kilimanjaro almost immediately after two grueling, physically punishing Super Bowl runs.
As the University of Virginia alum explained to SI.com’s Peter King on February 14, “I spend time outside. I hike, I trek, I climb. Doing it halfway around the world for eight days is different. But the toughest part is the altitude. Lots of people make it. But even the fittest guys struggle. Last year, we had a vet, an ultra-marathoner, totally bad-ass guy, who had to turn around. Altitude didn’t agree with him.”
But, somehow, Long was able to summit. Again, from his Valentine’s Day chat with Peter King: “You start in a rainforest, move into the high desert, and on the sixth day, you’re summitting, and you’re on a glacier, and you’re on top of Africa. It’s quite amazing.”
What is even more amazing is Long’s ability to generate real results for Tanzanians through his consistent commitment and generosity of spirit.
Results: The 2018 “Conquering Kili” class set a Kilimanjaro-level fundraising goal of $150,000 to support the climb and to construct clean water wells. As of February 13, the class had raised $68,000. The projects funded this year add to the four wells that have already been constructed through the “Conquering Kili” by previous classes.
Consistent Commitment: Long, again talking to SI.com’s King: “The awareness for our cause, clean water in east Africa … this is our best platform. The world water crisis is huge, and it means so much to me that we’ve been able to raise enough money to build 32 wells [through Waterboys; several other wells have been built through “Conquering Kili”] in such desperate areas.”
Generosity of Spirit: Once more, as part of the Long-King chat: “It’s a cool opportunity to involve all of my passions—my foundation, my life, helping active and retired NFL dudes, and then our military. They have a need, a void, for service. Some vets want to get involved in a cause bigger than selves. And this is such a great cause.”
Long and his 2018 “Conquering Kili” team at the summit of Kilimanjaro (Photo credit: Chris Long/Instagram)
Chris Long wears the ubiquitous (at least in the Philadelphia area) dog mask — it symbolizes the Eagles’ underdog status throughout its playoff/Super Bowl run — at the Kilimanjaro summit (Photo credit: Chris Long/Instagram)
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