TAMPA, Fla. — Chuck looked at Darryl.
Darryl looked at Chuck.
Joe looked at Darryl.
And Darryl looked at Joe.
Then Joe and Darryl both looked at Chuck, who was still looking at Darryl, I think.
You getting all this?
“Oh, all right, get on in there,” Darryl said.
The Long era begins.
Let the history books show that with 2:06 left in a meaningless game in a sun-stroked Florida stadium, Detroit’s quarterback of the future saw his first NFL action. And here it was.
He called the play, marched out of the huddle . . .
And handed off.
Huh? This is no story Handed off? Heck. He had been warming up on the sidelines for 15 minutes already. He could have thrown one to the team bus. The score was 31-17, the Lions were safely ahead — you would think that’s safe, 14 points, even for the Lions, no? And this is what they call? No pass? A hand-off to Scott Williams? What the–
And he handed off again.
Wooh, boy. Now the press box was rumbling. This was no story. Not at all. Some of us could even hand off.
Well, I think so, anyhow.
Long came to the sidelines. He got the third-down call. Another running play. Eric Hipple, the starting quarterback until two weeks ago, tugged at Long’s sleeve.
“Audible it off,” he whispered, grinning. “Go for a pass. They won’t get mad.”
Long returned to the huddle.
He handed off again.
This was the real excitement of this victory here in the land of sunshine. First it was waiting for Chuck. Then it was waiting for Chuck to throw. Soon it would be waiting for Chuck to complete something, then to scramble, then to . . .
Not that the win wasn’t nice. It was. Joe Ferguson played well at quarterback. He was the star. And Jeff Chadwick caught a couple of pretty ones, and the defense held when it had to. But face it. These two teams are going nowhere near the playoffs this season. And the only thing Long had been getting all day was a tan . . .
And then, fourth down.
By this point, even Hipple and Ferguson were bored. Like two kids with a taste for ice cream, they circled Daddy Rogers and nagged.
“Let him throw one, Darryl,” Hipple said.
“Yeah, let him throw,” Ferguson said. And Rogers bought it. Can you believe that? So that’s the secret. You just have to ask him nice enough.
Chuck it, Chuck. Thus spoke Darryl. So Long came back to the huddle — remember, now, it’s fourth down and four with 1:49 left — and he said, “OK, we’re going uptown.”
And Leonard Thompson said: “Nah, you’re kidding.”
‘Yeah! I like that’ “Seriously,” Long said.
“Seriously?” Thompson said.
Seriously. The ball was snapped, Thompson took off for the end zone, the Long arm cocked, the Long arm fired, the ball flew — hey, it was even a spiral — and Thompson made a diving catch and the referees signaled . . . ..
“I didn’t really see what happened,” Long would say. “Then I saw the referees and I said, “All right! Yeah! I like that.”
Everybody liked it. Including the fellow quarterbacks, who were laughing along with the rest of the Lions in the locker room later.
One pass, one catch, one touchdown, 34 yards.
“Unbelievable,” Long would say later.
He can quit now, right? I mean, what’s left? He can only go down from here.
I say we take his shoes, bronze them, and set him up in some cushy front-office spot.
Or maybe not. Anyhow, there you have it. Chuck Long has played. Chuck Long has passed. He didn’t get tackled, but hey. What do you want? Everything?
In the locker room afterwards, Thompson eyed the crowd around the rookie quarterback with the perfect career pass completion percentage. And he laughed.
“When that guy came into camp, I had said to him, ‘Say, Chuck, throw me a million-dollar pass!’ And he threw it behind me, and I said, ‘Uh, I hope you haven’t cashed that check yet.’ “
He shook his head and laughed again. “Well, today Chuck threw the million-dollar pass.”
Where’s that agent of his?
He probably wants to renegotiate.