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, late-season game in Florida, Detroit’s quarterback of the future saw his first NFL action. And here it was.
He called the play, stepped to the line . . .
And handed off.
Huh? Where’s the story here?
Handed off? Heck. He had been warming up on the sidelines for 15 minutes. He could have thrown 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? And then called this? A handoff to Scott Williams? No pass? What the–
And he handed off again.
Wooh, boy. Now the press box was rumbling. This was no story. Two downs, two handoffs? Jeez. Some of us could even do that.
Well, maybe not.
Anyhow, Long came to the sidelines for his third-down call. Ugh. Same thing. The former starter, Eric Hipple, 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 Lions victory. First it was waiting for Chuck. Then it was waiting for Chuck to throw. Soon it would be waiting for Chuck to complete something. . . .
Not that the win wasn’t nice. It was. Joe Ferguson played well as the starter. And Jeff Chadwick caught a few pretty ones, and the defense held when it had to. But face it. Neither team was going anywhere this season and the only thing Chuck Long was developing was a tan line. . . .
And then, fourth down.
By this point, even Hipple and Ferguson were bored. Like two kids, they circled Daddy Rogers. “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 the coach. So Long came back to the huddle — remember, now, it’s fourth-and-four on the Bucs’ 34 with 1:49 left — and he said, “OK, we’re going uptown.”
“Seriously?” said Leonard Thompson.
“Seriously,” said Long.
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 leaping catch and the referees signaled. . . . Touchdown?
‘Yeah! I like that’
The Lions ran onto the field. Long raced to the end zone. The six people left in the stands could not understand the fuss, but then, they weren’t Lions fans. One pass. One catch. One touchdown. Ta da.
“It’s a big thrill,” Long said afterward. “I didn’t really see the catch. Then I saw the referees and I said, ‘All right! Yeah! I like that.’ “
Everybody liked it. Including the fellow quarterbacks, who laughed along with Long in the locker room. Forget jealousies and rivalries. These guys are pros. And besides, funny is funny.
One pass. One catch. One touchdown.
“Unbelievable,” said Long.
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 let him retire. We can make a movie: Chuck Long, The Perfect Season. It’ll be 23 seconds — exactly how much playing time he officially got Sunday.
So it begins. Long probably won’t start the next game. Who knows how much he’ll even play this season? But the moment we awaited in this otherwise uninspiring season is finally history. One pass. One catch. One touchdown. He didn’t get tackled, but hey. You want everything?
In the locker room afterward, Thompson eyed the crowd around the rookie. And he laughed.
“When that guy came into camp, after his contract holdout, I had said to him, ‘Say, Chuck, throw me a million-dollar pass!’ And he threw it behind me, and I said, ‘Uh, Chuck, I hope you haven’t cashed that check yet.’ “
He shook his head and laughed again. “Well, today Chuck threw the million-dollar pass.”
Don’t tell his agent.
He’ll probably want to renegotiate.