Fun bunch, these Detroit Lions. The owner stops by long enough to call his team lousy. The No. 1 draft choice has just returned from undergoing emotional and personal counseling. And one more injury and Blue Cross might suggest that the team find a nice HMO somewhere.
The Lions are 2-9 and reeling. They know this because the Kansas City Chiefs, previously 1-9, celebrated Thanksgiving Day with a rare victory--over them. Now come the rejuvenated Rams, all giddy and confident after three consecutive wins.
Earlier this week, one of the Detroit newspapers was kind enough to suggest 10 solutions to the Lions' problems. Included in the plan: Fire Coach Darryl Rogers . . . replace the general manager . . . restructure the front office . . . stress off-season workouts (yes, that should do it) . . .
On it went, even detailing the Lions' failure to treat Chuck Long as a quarterback. The thinking was this: Long is overprotected, held unaccountable for his actions.
To which Rogers answers with a Bronx cheer.
Rogers may be many things--mostly on thin ice until he was told Thursday that the job was his again in 1988--but he says he would change little or nothing about his handling of Long. So sure is he of Long's development that he ditches diplomacy at the curb when comparing his starter with Ram counterpart, Jim Everett.
"I personally think Jim Everett is going to be a good quarterback," he said. "And I personally think that Chuck Long is going to be an outstanding quarterback in the NFL."
That explains why Long was given the starting position earlier this year, despite the presence of the capable Eric Hipple, no star but dependable, nonetheless.
Rogers has this theory. Unlike, say, Tampa Bay's Ray Perkins, who has kept Vinny Testaverde confined to the sidelines much of the season, Rogers thinks doing is better than observing. So in comes Long.
"The quarterback is the key, but he can't get experience by sitting on the bench and he can't get experience by watching other people," Rogers says. "So he has to get in there and do that, and that's the process we're taking."
The results have been mixed. The Lions are, after all, 2-9. But Long has had his moments, mainly in a game against the Green Bay Packers in late October. He completed 33 of 47 passes for 362 yards and 3 touchdowns. Sure enough though, the Lions lost, which prompted a cameo appearance from owner William Clay Ford.
Long has completed almost 58% of his passes, which isn't bad. But he has thrown only eight touchdown passes, which isn't good. Still, by season's end, Long has a legitimate chance to come close to breaking team records in passes, completions and yards--all in just 12 games.
Rogers likes to remind anyone who will listen that Long has yet to enjoy the benefit of a full season. It won't be until next year, Long's third year as a pro, that a 16-game schedule is his. This season there was a player strike. Last season included Long's time as pupil, a situation he would rather not repeat.
"It helped as far as Xs and O's, but you never really learn much until you actually get out there and play," Long said. "It's a tough situation. Going into this year . . . we do have a young team. And I was basically a rookie again this year. I didn't get much out of last year as far as playing time."
Long started the last two games of the Lions' 1986 season. Meanwhile, Everett found himself for the last five regular-season games and the first round of the NFC playoffs.
Odd how this has worked out. Long was a star at Iowa, Everett at Big Ten rival, Purdue. Long finished second to Bo Jackson for the Heisman Trophy in 1986. Everett finished sixth. Long was the 12th player and second quarterback taken in that year's draft. Everett was the third player and first quarterback selected.
Long missed his first training camp. So did Everett. Long made his first game appearance 12 weeks into the season. Everett made his 11 weeks into the season. They're nearly the same height and weight. Their birth dates are a little more than a month apart. This season, their quarterback ratings are nearly identical. And, not surprisingly, Long and Everett have struggled through slumps.
"I think we've both gone through the same troubles at times," Long said. "We're kind of in the same situation. We're just trying to feel comfortable with the situation. I feel more comfortable every week."
Said Everett: "I think that both of us are young quarterbacks who have the opportunity to play, to learn, to have experience. I know that they're having some tough times up there, but Coach Rogers . . . I think he's a good coach. I mean, there are a lot of parallels, but I don't think you can drag me out of LA."
And to hear Long, it might be difficult to convince him to leave Detroit. Truth is, he said, the Lions and their commitment to the passing attack is more attractive than handing the ball to Charles White 25 times a game.