That we’re a decade removed from Chris Long’s career at Virginia suggests time does indeed fly. Memories of Long in his No. 91, flying around the field for the best Cavaliers team perhaps of my lifetime remain fresh.
The 2007 season, and Long’s individual impact on it, may well be branded so prominently in my memory because I consider the late 2000s the peak of my college football fandom — emphasis on fan. I approached the game more from that perspective than the journalistic viewpoint, and in those days, I marked out for Chris Long.
I believed him to go somewhat under-appreciated. Long earned unanimous 1st Team All-American recognition in 2007, but his Herculean statistics — 14 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, 75 total tackles, an interception — failed to garner the Bronko Nagurski Award. Moreover, he had a very reasonable case to be a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Time hasn’t produced a groundswell of recognition for just how dominant Long was in Charlottesville, either. In researching for this Countdown series, I’ve cross-referenced with various other outlets that produced “Best Players at Each Number” type features.
Now, this countdown isn’t meant to define a singular “best” at each number. Rather, I aim to spotlight players who made an impact, either for me personally or in the grand scheme of college football.
Bearing that in mind, I’ve yet to see a single outlet deem Chris Long the game’s best No. 91 of all-time. Heck, I haven’t seen his name even given honorable mention.
Not even honorable mention? Really? Perhaps those visions of No. 91 breaking into the backfield over and over, hauling down quarterbacks one after another, were just mirages.
After all, it’s been nine years. Did I dream Long having one of the best individual seasons for a defensive player in my time watching college football?
No, it turns out I didn’t hallucinate Chris Long’s Virginia career. Those vivid memories of a No. 91 in navy-and-orange wreaking havoc on opponents weren’t the manifestation of a fever dream — though they are the last anyone will see. Virginia retired the No. 91 before the end of Long’s career.
At least one place gave Long’s time at Virginia its due.