You have been waiting for him. I have been waiting for him. It has become the thing to do here in Detroit.
“When, Chuck, when?” we ask.
“Soon, folks, soon,” we are told.
His teammates have been waiting for him. His coaches have been waiting for him. All season long, they have watched with anticipation.
“When, Chuck, when?’ they ask.
“Soon, men, soon,” they are told.
Hasn’t everyone been waiting? Yes, everyone has been waiting. We have waited 14 weeks for Chuck Long’s first start — which comes tonight against the Bears. Fourteen weeks. Fourteen long, hard weeks. Waiting for Chuck. We are experts on the subject, right?
Lisa Wells is an expert. Lisa Wells is the expert. She has been waiting for Chuck for 13 years, since he was not only Long, but short.
“When, Chuck, when?” she would ask.
“Soon, Lisa, soon,” she was told.
There is only one difference. One small but important difference. We are waiting for Chuck to become the Lions’ full- time quarterback.
She is waiting to marry him. Always games or awards “Chuck and I have known each other since we were 10 years old,” says Wells, 23, who is Long’s fiancee. “I used to ride on the back of his bicycle back in Wheaton (Ill). We played hide and seek in each others’ backyards.
“We’ve been going together since junior high, so we both sort of knew we’d eventually marry. It’s just . . . well, taken him a long time, I guess.”
You might say that. The same girl for 13 years? At that rate, we’ll all be retired by the time he chooses a receiver tonight.
“It’s funny,” Wells says, “my friends kid me about it, too. I know people who have met, gotten married, and had kids in less time.
“It’s just that something always came up. Back in college Chuck wanted to finish the senior season. We figured we’d get engaged after that.
“But then there was a bowl game.
“After the bowl game, we figured we’d get engaged, but there were all these awards Chuck had to pick up.”
“And then came the draft.”
When, Chuck, when? It was not like Long didn’t want to marry her. It would be hard to imagine a truer mate. She’d walked with him to Little League games. Been his prom date. Taken bus rides to his college. She even forgave him for the time in high school when, as a freshman, he “gave her away” to the then-varsity quarterback.
“He says he only did it because he figured I’d rather ride in that guy’s Camaro than on the back of his bike,” Wells says.
He was wrong. Luckily.
So she waited. And waited and waited. And one day, after the bowl and the awards and the draft were over, they were sitting in her apartment and he pulled out a ring and popped the question and she started crying.
“Well . . . ?” said Chuck.
She should have made him wait. You know. Cried for a couple of months, or something. Football wins again Instead, she said yes, and their wedding is set for June 6, 1987. It is not a Monday night. And I do not believe any Chicago Bears are invited.
“Chuck would have done it right after the season,” she says, “but I always wanted to be a June bride. I figure, I’ve waited this long . . . “
So all’s well that ends well. Still, it must be amusing for Wells to hear Detroiters chant “When, Chuck, when?” — as if they really know what it’s like to wait for him.
Even now, he’ll say “hut two!” before “I do.”
“It’s OK,” she says, laughing. “Actually, I’ve sort of enjoyed his not playing up till now. He’s home more, and there’s less pressure. This week has been crazy. But I’m glad he’s starting, because he’s really wanted to get in there.”
He’ll get in there. And when the game is over, and all the lights and cameras and fans are gone, Wells will be there, as usual. Waiting.
I bring this all up for a lesson. If you watch the game tonight, and Chuck doesn’t do so well, just remember. You haven’t really been waiting that long. Not when you consider the alternative.
And when Chuck and Lisa walk down the aisle next June, should he suddenly, after 13 years, get cold feet, she can take a lesson from tonight’s game as well.