Saturday, January 14, 2006

Doug's Final Down

There are many ways you could tell the story of Doug Flutie. One could go on about his stats—passing yardage, completion percent, rushing, and so on. You could tell about his years in the Canadian League with his many awards and championships and his eventual return to America and the NFL. You could even tell about his winning record standing in for the injured Rob Johnson with the Buffalo Bills. Those are not the stories I want to tell.

Flutie certainly isn't the best quarterback to have ever stepped on the field, nor is he the worst. In a game that favors massive players, his 5'10", 180 lb. frame is considered to be too small. A lot of his NFL career has been as a backup to larger, and younger, quarterbacks. That is not the story I want to tell, either.

There's the story of the Doug the husband and father of two—a daughter and an autistic son. It's the story of the man who loved his son so much that he set up the Flutie Foundation to help fund research into autism. While that story is a wonderful one, it's still not the one I want to tell.

No, the story that I want to tell is about The Pass and a kick.

I was lucky enough to be watching the Boston College/University of Miami game in 1984 when in the last seconds of the game, with BC down, Flutie threw perhaps the most famous Hail Mary pass in football to date. I wasn't even interested in football then, but knew that I had witnessed a special moment in sport. By underestimating the strength of Flutie's arm, Miami's defense lined up too short and allowed him to connect with Gerard Phelan a yard into the end zone on a post route. Whenever people talk about The Immaculate Reception, they're talking about that day and that play. BC would finish the season by winning their first bowl game since 1941.

The kick happened some 21 years after that in the twilight of his career. With a playoff berth already assured, the Patriots' coach was playing the second and third string when he sent Flutie in for what at first blush seemed like a 2 point conversion. Upon receiving the ball, Flutie dropped it to the turf and made a beautiful kick off of the bounce for the extra point—the first drop kick in professional football since 1941. Although the Patriots went on to lose the game, it was an exciting—if perhaps somewhat pointless—moment in football history.

I don't expect that he'll be back on the field again; at the age of 43, he's frankly getting too old to play professional football. So it seems all good things must end—and in the end, this is not just the story of a player, but rather it's more about a feeling of excitement inherent in a sport. Watching Doug Flutie over the years has been exciting for the style and energy he displayed every time he stepped out on the field. Every time I watched him play it reminded me that football was a game before it was a sport—and games were meant to be fun.

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