LONDON — Maybe you’ve heard: Khalil Mack used to be a Raider.
Eddy Pineiro and Cordarrelle Patterson too!
And while those three have a connection to the Black and Silver that’s intimate and will conjure some extra emotions Sunday when the three Bears finally battle their former team in London, they aren't the only ones.
“I love playing the Raiders because of my dad, and my younger brother works with the Raiders,” said Kyle Long, the son, of course, of Hall of Famer and franchise legend Howie Long and brother of Howie Jr., currently a personnel man for the organization.
Kyle Long vividly recalls his first time playing the Raiders, a 22-20 Bears victory at Soldier Field in 2015, powered by three Robbie Gould field goals — including a 49-yard buzzer beater.
“Last time we played the Raiders, I was going against Khalil Mack,” said Long, who played his lone season at right tackle that year.
Long that day did contain Mack, though the then-defensive end still added Jay Cutler to his sack list of 28 NFL quarterbacks, batted down one pass and tallied five tackles in a losing effort.
“I remember we won, and I remember thinking, I hope we can get this guy on our team — 52,” Long said.
None of Bears interim QB1 Chase Daniel’s previous four career starts came against the Raiders, but the ex-Chief is undefeated in his three meetings with Oakland and even garnered what was then his most extensive NFL playing time in a 2015 rout.
Daniel said Friday that the pomp and circumstance of playing in London, not specifically playing the Raiders, has actually simplified his week of preparing to spell an injured Mitch Trubisky.
“If anything, it's actually made it a little bit easier because I don't overthink things. There's just been so much stuff outside of football — you got to worry about packing, you got to worry about family tickets, you got to worry about all that stuff, and I'm really good at compartmentalizing, staying loose, staying calm,” Daniel said. “We have a really good game plan, and we're looking forward to Sunday. It's going to be a crazy crowd, I heard. And what a way to make history, right? First NFL game in Tottenham. We're looking forward to it.”
Of course, Daniel had as good of a vantage point arguably as anyone, mostly safe atop his AFC West backup QB perch on the sideline, watching Mack prior to last season. And while it doesn’t take a rocket scientist, much less a football savant to declare an early winner of the trade that brought Mack to Chicago within a few months of the quarterback last season, Daniel is uniquely qualified to discuss the topic.
“Well, we got him. So that’s a big win for us,” he said. “It’s hard to understand if you’re not out there playing quarterback and you see Khalil Mack rush at you, just the sort of fear he puts into you as a quarterback. Oh, I have to get the ball out a little bit quicker. Oh, we have to slide our whole entire line to him. Not only that, but he’s just a great dude. He’s a leader. Guys, he makes everyone around him better. That’s what I think is the most important part for us.”
Eddy Pineiro earlier this season described the trade that sent him from Oakland to Chicago in May in exchange for a conditional 2021 seventh-round draft pick as one that “blindsided” him and the Raiders “gave me up for pennies,” but in the week leading up to his reunion, he's mostly expressed gratitude for the team that signed him as a college free agent after a disappointing draft weekend concluded without his name being called.
“I’m very grateful for their opportunity. They were the team that believed in me at that time. I didn’t get drafted and they’re a team that believed in me and they gave me a shot,” he said this week. “They put me on IR, using it as an redshirt year, that they told me, to get better and develop. But at the end of the day, I’m always going to be grateful. They were the first team that gave me a shot to play in the NFL.”
Pineiro, who did say it would be a “cool feeling” reuniting with many of his former coaches and colleagues — surely in particular because of the early success he’s enjoying with the Bears — spent little to no time with Mack when both of them were Raiders. Remember, Mack was staying away from the team two offseasons ago in search of a new contract.
And although he said that he and Mack never discussed the fact that they both arrived in Chicago via trades from Oakland, Pineiro did say Mack, along with Akiem Hicks, were among the first players to welcome him to the Bears
Yeah,” he said with a laugh. “I mean, Khalil Mack, [Akiem] Hicks and a couple of other guys. They just shook my hand and said, ‘Hey we believe in you.’ From the first day they’ve all supported me.”
Before Aaron Lynch and Khalil Mack shared an OLB room in Chicago, they called the same Bay area home after coming out of the 2014 draft together — Mack as the fourth overall pick to the Oakland Raiders; Lynch going to the San Francisco 49ers in Round 5.
Heck, some might’ve thought based on their rookie years that Lynch was the one poised for superstardom after he tallied six sacks — two more than Mack — for a Niners club that went to three consecutive conference title games immediately preceding his arrival.
Suffice to say, Lynch’s arrival to the Bears last offseason didn’t quite make the same waves as Mack’s, though the Bears’ valuable No. 3 outside linebacker has given the team underrated mileage from the time he arrived.
Lynch isn’t always as understated when chatting with the media but kept it pretty simple when asked what he thought Sunday would mean to Mack.
“I’m pretty sure it means just as much to him like any other game,” Lynch said. “I’m pretty sure he’s salivating to go out there against the Raiders, but I’m pretty sure he salivates just like all of us to go out there. Just expect a couple forced fumbles this game.”
One of Matt Nagy’s defter touches as coach of the Bears is an understanding of how to handle his players. Of course he also understands some of their special connections to Sunday and playing the Raiders, but it’s not in line with his philosophy to prioritize any individual player over the team and achieving its collective goals.
“A lot of that stuff, then it gets into the personal side and you start making it a little bit bigger, the why part of it. OK, this is about somebody, person A vs. team B," Nagy said. "I know that's the last thing that Khalil's thinking right now. He's gonna continue to keep dominating the way he has. No different in this game. There's a story line to it for sure. And that makes for a good week of stories. But for the most part, there's a mutual respect for everybody. And I know Khalil completely respects that organization and is gonna just come out and do everything he can to help us win the game.”
Nagy is likely right that it's the last thing Mack is thinking about, but it remains at the top of everyone else's minds entering Sunday. After all, there's only one early leader in the clubhouse for his second Defensive Player of the Year award, and with his flare for the dramatic, it's safe to assume Mack will build on that growing resume Sunday against his former team.
Just don't expect him to discuss it anymore at this point.
"I mean, you could talk all day, man. But I ain’t a talker. I just want to go out and show it. And I’m going to let that be that."