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Sorry, Charlie A lifetime of adversity helped prepare coolheaded but little-known rookie Charlie Batch for a true test of character: quarterbacking the hapless Lions

When opportunity rang for Detroit Lions rookie quarterback
Charlie Batch, he was screening his calls. On Tuesday of last
week, after deciding to bench veteran Scott Mitchell for the
rest of the year in favor of Batch, Lions coach Bobby Ross
called Batch's apartment. But like a lot of people on their days
off, Batch had switched on his answering machine and was
ignoring the phone. By the time he got the message, it was too
late to call back, so he had to wait until he was summoned to
Ross's office inside the Pontiac Silverdome before practice the
next morning to find out the news.

Partly because he was the third quarterback taken in last
spring's NFL draft, almost 60 picks behind superstars-in-waiting
Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, and partly because he played his
college ball at Eastern Michigan (where he was the Eagles' MVP as
a senior), Batch paid close attention to the wording of Ross's
request for a meeting--once he finally heard it. "He didn't ask me
to bring my playbook, so I knew, at least, I wasn't getting cut,"
he said. "Other than that, I had no idea what Coach wanted from

Ross wanted Batch to guide the winless, dysfunctional Lions, who
nearly had a rumble in their locker room after losing in
overtime to Cincinnati in Week 2, against undefeated Minnesota
on Sunday before a Metrodome crowd that would be five times
bigger than those Batch was accustomed to at Eastern Michigan.
Predictably, Detroit lost, 29-6, but in the process it may have
found a quarterback. "For a guy thrown into the fire, Charlie
Batch did very well," said Vikings safety Robert Griffith
afterward. "He's quick. He's smart. He's got a great arm, and he
can run. He did a lot better than Leaf and Manning did in their
first starts, that's for sure."

It was more like a three-way tie. Batch threw for half the yards
Manning did in his debut, but the Lions rookie looked twice as
composed. And while he put up better total numbers than Leaf,
the Chargers' quarterback was the only one to win his first
start. Batch completed 20 of 40 passes for 160 yards, with no
touchdowns, one fumble and two inconsequential interceptions,
one at the end of each half. He also nearly outrushed Barry
Sanders, gaining 63 yards on eight carries, a stat for which he
paid dearly. In the locker room after the game, Batch's body
looked like a 6'2" collage of contusions, swollen joints and
turf burns. "It was definitely a thrill, but it was a rough
experience," said Batch. "I'm anxious to get back out there. I'm
ready for it. The only difference for me between Eastern and the
NFL is that all these games are on TV."

One other thing: Eastern Michigan might have been a better team.
Although they seem set at quarterback, the 0-3 Lions still need
replacements at most other positions. Detroit's defense and
special teams gave Batch terrible field position; the offensive
line jumped offsides five times (one time, Batch was to blame),
gave up the same number of sacks and rarely allowed Batch to set
up in the pocket and put full velocity on his throws. His
receivers, including All-Pro Herman Moore, inexplicably
stone-handed five routine catches, all of which could have
resulted in first downs.

The one guy in Honolulu blue who wasn't rattled was Batch, even
though his only extra preparation during his four days of
practice as the first stringer was a half hour of drills with
quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn and a special wristband listing 10
of Detroit's wordier play designations. The lone time any of the
Lions can remember Batch's acting like a kid was early in
training camp, when he handed off to Sanders and then ignored
the rest of the play to watch the master run. By comparison,
Zorn, who started at quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks as a
rookie in 1977, was so nervous in his NFL debut that between the
huddle and the line of scrimmage he forgot the first play he

Even with Vikings defenders squealing "Char-lie! Char-lie!" at
him before most plays, Batch showed poise and field presence. He
ran or threw for 14 of Detroit's 19 first downs, including two
conversions on fourth down. True, he needs work on his audibles
and deep passes, but for the most part the Lions were pleased.
"Charlie did not self-destruct," said Zorn. "With all he went
through today, there were no signs of panic, and he never lost
his concentration." In other words, he was nothing like
Mitchell, a guy who, despite a four-year, $21 million contract,
pretty much gave away Detroit's last two playoff games and first
two games this fall with turnovers and a tendency to wither
under pressure. "Charlie is unflappable," says Rick Rasnick, who
was Batch's coach at Eastern Michigan from '95 to '97. "He's one
of those guys who isn't bothered by pressure. He just plays. I
don't want to get carried away, but in that sense he reminds me
a lot of John Elway and Brett Favre."

Such comparisons explain why the Lions traded three picks to the
Miami Dolphins so they could move up in the draft and snatch
Batch. They moved up just high enough; when Detroit's turn came,
Batch was on the phone with the Denver Broncos, who had the 61st
pick. Thank god for call waiting.

Draft day and Tuesday of last week, however, were rare occasions
when a phone call has brought good news for Batch, whose uncommon
maturity was born of setbacks and tragedies. His mother, Lynn
Settles, raised Batch and his younger siblings, Vernon and Danyl,
by herself in Homestead, Pa., near Pittsburgh. Right after the
draft Charlie's father, Charles, with whom he rarely speaks,
tried to reach him by phone. "I didn't talk to him," says
Charlie. "I don't know him."

Low SAT scores forced Batch to sit out his freshman year at
Eastern Michigan. The following summer he took a job painting
fences and roofs with two teammates, only to learn that the toxic
materials they had worked with had harmed their kidneys. Although
treatment caused him to miss the next season, Batch was fortunate
that his poisoning had been diagnosed early enough to prevent
permanent damage. His teammates weren't as lucky. One is on
dialysis, awaiting a kidney transplant. The other is in the early
stages of kidney failure.

Two years later, in 1995, Batch was named the Eagles' offensive
MVP. Then, on Feb. 17 of the next year, Danyl, 17, was on her way
to a friend's house two blocks from home when she was caught in
the cross fire between rival gangs. This time when Charlie
answered the phone, there was no greeting, just his mother on the
line, unable to say the words Your sister is dead. Instead, she
said, "Charlie, you have to come home right now. Right now."

"People say time eases the pain of something like that," said
Batch after practice last Friday. "It doesn't. Time just allows
you to accept it. It shatters you. I really didn't want to come
back to school. But the one person who would have wanted me to
pursue my dream of playing in the NFL was my sister, so I kept

Batch missed most of the 1996 season with a broken ankle. He
returned to Eastern Michigan in 1997, thanks to a
medical-hardship redshirt season, and flourished in the Eagles'
pro-set attack under offensive coordinator Dan Henson, who had
tutored Jake Plummer at Arizona State. Batch finished his
college career with 7,592 yards passing, 53 touchdowns and a
degree in criminology. The NFL combine in February gave him a
showcase for his skills, and he leapfrogged over the likes of
Michigan quarterback Brian Griese in the draft. What especially
impressed Detroit were his knack for making big plays at crunch
time and his mastery of the mental side of the sport, something
he had worked on with Danyl. After high school games Batch would
report to her for a critique. "She knew football," he says.
"She'd sit in the cold and watch, and then come to me and say
stuff like 'That throw to the back in the second quarter was

When Zorn evaluated Batch before the draft and again early last
week when Ross was agonizing about making the quarterback switch,
Batch was repeatedly dragged into the Lions' film room to watch
tape and answer questions about his reads and reactions. He
passed the pop quizzes with ease. "He understands offensive
concepts as well as any player or coach I have ever been around,"
says Rasnick. In fact, with Detroit's season in the balance, it
was Batch's mental edge--in attitude and aptitude--that persuaded
Ross to dial his number.

Batch may have missed Ross's first attempt to get through to him,
but he answered the call on Sunday.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY VINCENT MUZIK Grab bag Against the Vikings, Batch avoided the clutches of Jerry Ball & Co. often enough to throw for 160 yards and run for 63. [Jerry Ball and Charlie Batch]

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY VINCENT MUZIK Quick study Zorn says that his star pupil (center) showed "no signs of panic and never lost his concentration" in his first start. [Jim Zorn coaching Charlie Batch]


Although the Colts' Peyton Manning and the Chargers' Ryan Leaf
have gotten most of the publicity so far this fall, the top two
selections in last April's draft were not the only rookie
quarterbacks on 53-man rosters as of last weekend.


Charlie Batch, Lions, 2 Detroit gave up three 1998 draft picks
Eastern Michigan to move up 19 spots to select him;
he's the only rookie besides Manning
and Leaf who's attempted a pass

Jonathan Quinn, Jaguars, 3 The 6'5", 244-pound transfer from
Middle Tennessee State Tulane has a strong arm and is
mobile, having run a 4.59 in the 40

Brian Griese, Broncos, 3 Heir apparent to John Elway, he is
Michigan expected to sit and learn Denver
system for at least a year

Moses Moreno, Bears, 7 Coaches think this former WAC
Colorado State Offensive Player of the Year could
be a backup because of his strong

Pete Gonzalez, Steelers, Free Long shot to make team won
Pitt agent roster spot by outplaying Mike Quinn
for the third spot, behind Kordell
Stewart and Mike Tomczak