Republican W.R. (Buster) O'Brien, who lost the race for Virginia attorney general last year, sued the National Broadcasting Co. today for $3 million, saying a 1985 news program defamed him by concluding that he had been jailed for lying about his professional football career.

O'Brien, a Virginia Beach legislator and lawyer, lost the November election to Democrat Mary Sue Terry.

In his suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Norfolk, O'Brien charged that NBC reporter Kenneth Bode "conveyed the false and defamatory conclusion that O'Brien was guilty of a crime and had been imprisoned" for saying in campaign brochures and statements that he had played for three professional teams, including the Washington Redskins.

O'Brien was among five politicians mentioned in the July 3 television report on the "NBC Nightly News." The four others had been convicted of lying or had admitted lying about their records -- including one who had made up a record as a war hero.

O'Brien was embarrassed early in the campaign when newspaper reports suggested he had overstated his professional football career. O'Brien never faced criminal charges of any kind and did not drop out of the campaign as did others who were mentioned in the NBC report.

O'Brien, a college football star, played in some preseason games and was paid, but never played in a regular season game for any of the professional teams.

In his report, Bode said at one point, "Trouble is, all three teams say Buster never played -- not one minute in one game," according to a transcript of the program.

NBC officials declined comment today. Bode said, "I like Buster O'Brien personally. I liked him when I saw him and I still do. But I stand by the story." NBC has 20 days to file a reply to the suit.

The NBC report on O'Brien's football record was given while NBC showed tape of him touring the state prison at Mecklenburg, including standing behind bars.

After the program, O'Brien's campaign complained bitterly that NBC juxtaposed the football resume story with an ordinary campaign appearance for O'Brien, who was touring the state prison at Mecklenburg.

The news spot ended:

"Buster O'Brien of Virginia, the latest to be caught in the trap of resume enhancement. If other states decide to follow the lead of Oregon, a politician who adds a phony line to his resume could wind up with an all-expense-paid visit to a place like this."

The camera pulled back to a wide shot of Mecklenburg's barbed wire fence.