LONG HAS HAD PRACTICE IN KEEPING FOLKS WAITING

You have been waiting for him. I have been waiting for him. It has become the thing to do here in Detroit, waiting for him.

“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 him with anticpation.

“When, Chuck, when?’ they ask.

“Soon, men, soon,” they are told.

Hasn’t everyone been waiting? Yes, everyone has been waiting. We are veterans at this sport, waiting for Chuck Long. We have done it for 14 weeks. Fourteen long, hard weeks. We know all about waiting, right?

We know nothing.

Lisa Wells knows about waiting. Lisa Wells has been waiting 13 years. Since Chuck 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’ starting quarterback.

She wants to marry him. Always games or awards

“We’ve 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 I guess we both sort of knew that we’d eventually get married. 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.”

She sighs.

“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 been with him at his little league games. Been his date at the prom. 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.

So she waited. And waited and waited. And after the bowl, and after the awards and after the draft and everything else, they were sitting in her apartment one Saturday last May and he pulled out a ring and she started crying.

“Well?” Chuck said, not sure of the tears.

She should have made him wait. Football wins again She said yes, of course, and their wedding is scheduled for June 6, 1987. It is not a Monday night. And I do not believe any Chicago Bears are invited.

So all’s well that ends well, even if the ending is so far from the beginning it’s hard to keep track. Still, it has to be a bit amusing for Wells to listen to this city chant “When, Chuck, when?” as if they really know what it’s like to wait.

Then again, the city beat her to the punch.

Long gets his first start tonight.

“It’s nothing new,” she said, laughing. “Actually, I 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.”

And when the game is over, and all the lights and cameras and fans are gone, she will be there, as usual, waiting.

It is a good lesson, and one to keep in mind as you watch the game this evening. Patience is a virtue. Good things come to those who wait. Remember that. And if Chuck Long has a lousy outing tonight, don’t be harsh and say something like, “Jeez, I waited this long for that?”

After all, it could be worse.

Imagine saying it on your wedding night.

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