WASHINGTON — He sat in the grass near the 30 yard line, shaking his head, even as the Redskin defenders danced around him in glee. Chuck Long had just tried one of the simpler things in football, throwing away a pass, and he had missed the target. The target was the ground.

He missed the ground?

“What were you thinking as you sat there?” someone asked Long after this gut-twisting, 20-13 loss to Washington, a loss that was sealed with a last-minute interception by cornerback Darrell Green of the ball that was just supposed to be thrown away. “Were you thinking: ‘Forget it. Push it out of your mind.’? Or were you thinking: ‘Oh, bleep!’? “

Long forced a grin. “A combination of both.”

Right. Remember your first year of high school? Remember the job interview that didn’t go so well? Remember basic training in the Army? They call that stuff “part of growing up.” And if you watched the Lions play the Redskins Sunday, a game they were supposed to lose, could have won, and finally handed away, you realize that is where this affair must ultimately be filed.

Part of growing up. Chuck Long played a good game Sunday, a very good game. There were moments when he was swimming in Redskin defenders and he never splashed, never flinched, he found his receivers and fired away. Remember, this is a Washington team that should have killed the Lions, yet the score stayed close. Long was confident, the difficult was coming easy . . .

And the next thing he knew he was sitting on the grass, shaking his head.

The easy stuff had done him in. The little things

“We had this game,” said Long in the locker room afterwards, holding out his palms. “It was in our hands . . . ”

And then it was gone. That final interception was merely a slice of liver on a castor oil sundae. Learn from your mistakes? Long might be a genius by this morning.

Consider this: Earlier in that quarter, Long had led a beautiful drive to the Skins’ 18. And then, on first down, he threw a pass without setting up properly. A mistake of excitement. The ball flicked off Gary Lee’s hands and was intercepted. Long grabbed his head as he walked off the field, as if voices inside his helmet were screaming.

“All I had to do was set my feet,” he said, ” I was a little off balance .
. . “

Two possessions later, the Lions reached the Washington 30. The 53,593 Redskins fans jeered so loudly, Long couldn’t hear the signals. He stepped back. The crowd jeered louder. He walked away. The crowd jeered louder. Finally, he took the snap. The Redskins blitzed. He was sacked.

“I could have seen that blitz coming if we were in the shotgun,” he said.
“But you can’t hear in a shotgun when the crowd is so loud. . . . ” What went wrong?

You’d think that would be enough giveth-and-taketh-away for one Sunday. But wait. The Lions got the ball back again on a Jimmy Williams fumble recovery (could these really be the Washington Redskins?) And Long pulled on his helmet. Here, certainly, was a slice of destiny, heated and served with whipped cream, right?

Wrong. Long moved the team to the Washington 14. He had a first down. The fans were stunned. The Redskins were stunned. And with 69 seconds left, Long dropped back, got pressured, and decided to throw the ball away and . . . well, you know this part.

“I didn’t want grounding called, so I aimed at Pete (Mandley’s) feet. I didn’t even see Green. And the next thing I know, the guy’s getting up with the interception and running the other way. It was like, ‘Where did he come from? What’s he doing?’ Ahh. All I had to do was throw it away. . . . “

So simple. The easy stuff. After all that hard stuff. And that was that. Another loss. True, in the big picture, it doesn’t really matter. This team has no playoffs to worry about, no division to win. But while the temptation is to say “same old Lions” the facts say otherwise: the defense was inspired
(only 309 total yards) and the running game flickered with hope. And, to be honest, the young quarterback put on a hell of a show; completed 23 of 37 passes, read blitzes, stood in the belly of the beast and did not lose his poise.

And threw four interceptions.

You can’t have everything.

Consider it a scrapbook page about growing up: Chuck Long holding his head, Chuck Long sitting in the grass, and Chuck Long ultimately coming of the field older, wiser, and a step closer to his destiny.

“What happened, Chuck?” asked yet another reporter, shoving a microphone into his face.

“We had chances. We didn’t capita . . . “

He bit his lip.

“I didn’t capitalize.”

Sad. True. This, unfortunately, is what happens when you’re learning the ropes:

Sometimes they hang you.

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