One night nearly seven months ago, Fred Brown of Georgetown threw away a pass, and with it a chance at the NCAA basketball championship. It was an instant that will stay with him forever.

But not until last Friday, Oct. 15, was he able to control his emotions enough to watch a replay of the pass intercepted by North Carolina's James Worthy in the final seconds of the title game.

"Before that, I couldn't watch," Brown said yesterday afternoon. "I just didn't want to. When I finally did watch it, in my mind, I couldn't really understand what went on. I looked at it and couldn't figure out what happened or why.

"Every time I looked at it, I'd come up with a different theory. I thought about the pressure of the moment, or whether I was concentrating fully. People have come up with a million different theories. Right after the game I thought I knew. But I really can't tell you why, not even now.

"It's something I'll always think about, something I'll always remember. You never forget. But you can deal with it and understand."

Since March 29, Brown has spent a lot of time trying to understand; not just the pass, but why housewives who never watch basketball sent him letters; why people don't know how to approach him anymore; why (and how) the pass will affect his life long after he stops playing basketball.

A recent operation to remedy tendinitis in his right knee has sidelined Brown for approximately eight weeks, giving him all the time he needs to reflect. Yesterday, in his first extensive interview since that NCAA game, he talked about it at length.

"Everywhere I went this summer, people knew who I was," Brown said. "People didn't know how to approach me. They didn't know what to say.

"I didn't go home to New York for very long. But I'd see a few friends and they'd walk up and say something like, 'Man, you really lost me a lot of money. You owe me for that one.'

"It's not that they're ignorant. They felt uncomfortable and didn't know quite how to express what they felt. What they were really telling me was, 'Keep on going.' But you know how some guys, especially your friends, are so macho. They couldn't come up and put their arm around me or hug me. They couldn't do that."

Brown's coach, John Thompson, did hug Brown at the end of the game, in another scene that will be remembered forever because national television cameras caught the emotion of the moment.

At the time, Thompson told Brown not to talk about the pass after the postgame press conference. But the coach couldn't stop the outpouring of sympathetic affection the pass and the hug generated around the country.

"I got letters and cards from all walks of life," Brown said. "It made me grow as a person. Some letters were from people who just wanted to talk about their problems. Some of them weren't even about basketball.

"One lady told me she hit a child with her car and killed him," Brown said. "She said it was something she regretted, but it was out of her control. I guess you don't always have control. But she thought about it again that night.

"Other people were critical. I don't think I resent it. It's part of human nature. It gives some people satisfaction to knock other people. They feel better if someone has made a mistake and they haven't. I'm from New York and I'm used to that.

"I expected a lot of criticism like that when I got back to school. But it didn't happen. It taught me to watch expectations. I've learned to be a lot more tolerant of people. People have feelings.

"I was talking to my girlfriend yesterday. She couldn't understand, either. She said, 'You threw another bad pass or two in that game. Why was that one so important?' And I had to tell her that that was the last play in a tug-of-war of what they said was the best championship game ever to be played."

Brown has never felt it necessary to take much credit for anything, good or bad.

Early in his freshman year, he tipped in a teammate's missed shot at the buzzer in overtime that gave Georgetown a one-point victory at Seton Hall. "I don't take the credit for that," Brown said. "It was probably the only shot I made all game."

And when Brown was on the verge of taking the blame for losing to North Carolina, his teammates reminded him about his philosophy of not taking credit -- or blame.

"I don't really know where I developed that attitude," Brown said. "I come from a family that believes the different parts make up the whole. In sociology, we call it the Functionalist Theory. If something came in the house, it was ours, not mine.

"On a basketball team, it's the same thing. You have to take the good with the bad. I accepted winning and losing when I accepted a scholarship to attend Georgetown. I'm man enough to deal with that. I have fallen and I will fall again, I'm sure. But I'll get up.

"This experience can only help me because that's all I'll let it do."