The family tells Charlie Brown that it's not the same now when they show the Washington Redskins' games on television in John's Island, S.C.
Roy Green, the stunning St. Louis receiver, told Brown after last week's Cardinals-Redskins game that his own mother-in-law was Brown's biggest fan and to hurry back to health.
At last year's Pro Bowl, Green had playfully whispered into Brown's ear to see if the Redskins might acquire him in a trade. "We'd need three balls then, one for you, one for me and one for Art Monk," Brown said he told Green. Brown's Redskins teammates constantly draw Xs and Os in their minds, thinking about the explosive possibility of a formation with three wide receivers, deploying Brown, Monk and newly acquired Calvin Muhammad.
"Put it on paper," says tight end Rick Walker, "and the possibilites are awesome."
Charlie Brown says he hears all of this and then he just smiles. After missing his rookie season in 1981 with a knee injury, Brown has played two full seasons and has been to the Pro Bowl twice.
Prior to this season, Brown had played in 24 regular-season games and had scored 16 touchdowns, a scoring ratio that is incomprehensible to most NFL receivers. Brown had 141 catches in 31 career games (including playoffs), seven for 50 yards or longer and all seven of those had ended in Fun Bunch touchdown celebrations.
This year, however, the player called "Downtown" has moved to the suburbs of rehabilitation. Philadelphia cornerback Elbert Foules fell on Brown's leg after a first-quarter incompletion on Sept. 30, four games ago.
Brown hasn't played since. It was determined that he had suffered a sprained ankle and a stress fracture to his fibula. On Tuesday, after the stress fracture failed to show noticeable improvement, Brown was placed on injured reserve for a minimum of four more weeks.
This means he can't return to the lineup until Week 13, against Buffalo. "I guarantee he'll be ready by then," trainer Bubba Tyer says. This also means that, even if he returns then, Brown would have missed what amounts to nearly nine games (an earlier hamstring pull reduced him to playing decoy for a handful of plays against the Giants in Week 3), which is more than half of the 16-game schedule.
It also means that, by Week 13, Charlie Brown will have caught only 12 passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns. Last season, he caught a club record 78 passes for 1,225 yards. No trip to the Pro Bowl this year.
Some players survive hardship by dreaming of making a sugar-plum return. Not Charlie Brown, though. "I don't believe in dreams or fairy tales," he said. "I just think of everything being real. I think when you think of things happening beforehand, then if something goes wrong you'll really be down. No, I don't believe in all of that. I never did."
Brown says he has heard the news of major injuries all around the league this season. "Kellen Winslow, William Andrews, Billy (White Shoes) Johnson," Brown says, "Kenny Jackson, Billy Simms, Curt Warner. There's been a lot of them.
"I think I'm lucky. So many of those guys' injuries are bad. I mean real bad. They've got to do a lot of rehabilitation.
"I thought my leg was broken. I was lucky. I'm not going to even complain about my injury . . . I just want to come back strong.
"At first, I thought it was just my ankle. But a couple of days (after the Philadelphia game), I started getting pain on the side where the stress fracture is, in the fibula low down. I just knew it was something else (besides the ankle injury). I tried running and jogging on it and it just won't let me go."
Brown said he isn't certain whether it will take the full four weeks for him to be ready to return to the lineup, although he must remain sidelined for at least that long now that he has been placed on injured reserve.
"I really can't say (how long) because it's going slow. It's getting better, but it's slow. I'm talking slow motion," he says. "There's no way I could have told Coach (Joe) Gibbs that I'd be ready in one week, two weeks or even three . . . I think the most hurt I feel is every week when I try to run to see where I am and I realize that it really hasn't progressed that much . . . I only thought I'd be gone one game, at first."
Some have wondered how Brown might react to playing in a lineup where the focal point might be Monk, who seems en route to his first Pro Bowl, with 49 catches for 744 yards at the halfway point of the season.
Might it be hard for Brown, 25, to be the second most important receiver? "I don't think of myself as that," he says. "I just think of myself as producing as the game goes on . . . I don't think there is anybody in the league who is better than I am and I said that when I was a rookie. I told reporters when I was a rookie that I thought I could be one of the best players at my position. I never put myself second to nobody. I always think of myself as No. 1."
But what of Monk? This time, Brown turned down a more deferential back alley, saying, "I didn't say that to reflect on Art, but on all receivers (in the league) . . . If Art produces on the level that he's producing at now and if I'm not playing, I can only be happy for him and for our team. I won't ever compete against him when it comes to playing. All of my competing is against the other team. If my teammate is playing great week in and week out, I'm happy for him. It's not going to bother me if he has so many catches and I have less catches. Our team is not about that and I'm not about that."
He is only 5 feet 10, 179 pounds (same as running back Joe Washington), but Brown does not feel that his smallish physique makes injury a likelihood. "I never did think that size had anything to do with a football player being injury-prone," he says.
Brown says that all of his injuries have occured on "freakish" plays. He injured his knee in his rookie year when "I just fell on my knee in a preseason game against Baltimore."
He missed one game last year after he had sprained his ankle trying to stutter-step between two defenders at Green Bay. "My foot caught in the turf," Brown says.
He pulled his hamstring running a long pattern in the 37-31 loss at San Francisco on a Monday night seven weeks ago. "I think the cold weather tightened my hamstring," says Brown, adding that he went to a local hotel to swim laps and to sit in the jacuzzi for "four or five nights" before the game against the Giants and before the game against New England. "Usually, a hamstring pull takes two to four weeks (to heal), but I didn't miss a game.
"I was in the best shape I've ever been in and I had the best preseason I had ever had this year, too," Brown says. "I really got into weights (in the offseason) and I worked on my legs real good . . . It's just part of life, part of the game that you'll have some downfalls. I don't think it's affected me at all. Back in '81, I probably would have gone berserk with this injury.
"Right now, my goal is to get back to health. After that, I just want to produce to help the team. My confidence will always be there. It's like I have a built-in confidence system. I think coming down the stretch, our team will need a lot of help."