"Time slips away and leaves you with nothing, mister,

But boring stories of glory days." -Bruce Springsteen

To Washington-area football fans, the lingering image of Charlie Brown is that of an impish speedster, having just caught the clinching touchdown in the Redskins' victory in Super Bowl XVII, suspended in mid-air, about three feet high, leading the raucous Fun Bunch in one last leaping high-five celebration.

That picture went out all over the world. The catch, which provided the final points in the Redskins' 27-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins, climaxed a 1982 rookie season in which Brown went from an obscure, marginal prospect to a Pro Bowl wide receiver feared by defenses around the league.

Professionally, things were never again so good for Brown. He had another Pro Bowl season in 1983, catching more than twice as many passes as in 1982, but the Los Angeles Raiders held him scoreless and thumped the Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII. That's when things started to go downhill for the man with the comic-strip name and the flair for the spectacular.

The Redskins traded him after an injury-plagued 1984 season to Atlanta, where he had one more star season, catching 63 passes for the Falcons in 1986. By 1988, when he was picked up and released by the Indianapolis Colts, his NFL career was over at the age of 30.

But it wasn't the end of his football career. Now almost 32, he has taken his game indoors to the Arena Football League. Washington fans can still see the Charlie Brown Show, because he works his magic for the Washington Commandos these days.

Tonight will be the first chance for area fans to evaluate his transition to the Arena version of football, which includes such peculiarities as a 50-yard field, players playing both ways, and tightly strung nets that rebound missed kicks into the defense's hands.

The Commandos, 0-1 after a season-opening loss to the Albany Firebirds last week, will play the first of four home games this season at 8 p.m. at the Patriot Center against the Detroit Drive led by quarterback Art Schlichter.

Tonight's game will mark Brown's reunion with local fans who so adored him as a Smurf. His days as a Redskin are long gone -- his last game for them was almost six years ago. But sing no sentimental songs for Charlie Brown. And, by any means, don't come to the game tonight to bask in boring stories of glory days. Brown can still play.

"I haven't lost anything," said Brown, who caught 220 passes for 25 touchdowns in his six-year NFL career. "I'm still getting behind guys in the secondary. And I can still run a consistent 4.5 {40-yard dash}. If I get a good jump, I can probably do a 4.4."

For nonbelievers, he already has proof that his skills are still there: he blew by Albany's defense for a 40-yard touchdown catch, the Commandos' only offensive touchdown. If the Arenaball fields weren't so small, it might have been a 90-yarder.

"You can't operate on these fields like you can in the NFL," Brown said. "The field is so short that it takes away a lot of your room to maneuver. So your routes have to be precise and you always have to know where you are on the field."

He never had a problem maneuvering on NFL fields. His only problem was getting there. As a senior at run-oriented South Carolina State, he caught only 19 passes. So it was justifiable that his name was left off of most scouting services.

His break came when Redskins scout Charley Taylor decided to visit Brown at the South Carolina State campus in the summer of 1981. After Taylor came back with a glowing report, Bobby Beathard, then general manager, had to see for himself. When he selected Brown in the eighth round, he told reporters: "We just picked a true sleeper."

The Redskins had to wait a year to see if Beathard's instincts were right. Brown blew a knee in an exhibition game before that 1981 season and was lost for a year. But 1982 came soon enough and Brown was, literally, off and running.

Then what happened? What went wrong, that five years later -- and only two years after he caught 63 passes for Atlanta -- nobody wanted a 30-year-old, two-time All-Pro?

"To be honest, I can't explain it," he said, "especially after that great year in Atlanta. I've always stayed in shape because I'm just that type of an athlete. In 1986 I had that great year in Atlanta. Then we had some contract disputes the next year and they just sat me on the bench for no reason.

"I mean, I was 50 percent of their passing game in 1986. It wasn't anything I did." He said it seemed like, after Coach Dan Henning got fired after the 1986 season, "things just stalled. I don't think I was treated right. I don't know what went wrong. But I don't even think about it. I don't worry about what I can't control."

He said he doesn't think about the good times either, although the gold "All-Pro" charm hanging from his neck and the NFL cap on his head would indicate otherwise. "Once something good happens, I enjoy it at that moment but it doesn't last that long, to be honest. I guess the fans probably will always look back and think about it more than I do."

So smooth that Henning once said, "It looks like he's ice skating," Charlie Brown now plays football in ice skating arenas, earning $4,000 a season, a far cry from the six-figure salaries he made in the NFL.

Is he trying to use the Commandos as a springboard back to the NFL? He says he's not.

"I'm just having a good time. If someone wants to give me another shot, I'll listen. I can still play. There's no doubt about that. But I'm not going to sit around and wait for them."