By: Bob George/BosSports.net
May 04, 2005

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One Hail Mary pass, and this guy can always do right in these parts.

Many folks would call the game the best college football contest they have ever seen. On November 23, 1984, one day after Thanksgiving, Doug Flutie and his Boston College Eagles strode into the Miami Orange Bowl to take on the Hurricanes. This was a Miami team which was one year removed from its watershed 1983 campaign which culminated in a classic 35-34 Orange Bowl win over Nebraska, and which had presumptive Heisman Trophy winner Bernie Kosar at quarterback.

The Flutie-Kosar passing duel was one of the finest ever. Flutie threw for 472 yards, Kosar threw for 447. The seesaw game went back and forth more often than Edgar Allan Poe's legendary pendulum. It all came down to the game's final play with six seconds left, with Flutie finding Gerard Phelan in the end zone for a 48-yard Hail Mary scoring toss. It remains one of the most electrifying moments in college football history, and it is without a doubt the finest moment ever in New England college football history (unless you went to Harvard and still can't get over that 1968 tie with Yale).

The classic contest sealed the 1984 Heisman Trophy for Flutie, who took home an award you rarely see New Englanders win. This was during a time where the Celtics ruled the roost in the area, where the Patriots were in a state of flux amidst the coaching transition from Ron Meyer to Raymond Berry, the Bruins were heading into transition, and the Red Sox were a moribund team two years away from the World Series. At this time in New England sports history, Flutie was perhaps second behind Larry Bird in stature in the region. The good people of Natick and Chestnut Hill might have put Flutie at the top of that list.

After a stormy run in the USFL as the quarterback of the New Jersey Generals, Flutie broke into the NFL in 1986 with the Super Bowl Champion Chicago Bears, who had just flummoxed Flutie's home team in Super Bowl XX, 46-10. Flutie spent his time in the Windy City stuck behind Jim McMahon, then found his way back home for the first time under adverse circumstances.

The 1987 player strike cut the season to 15 games, and featured a slew of strikebreakers which helped break the player's union and shorten the strike. Bob Bleier was the main Patriot replacement quarterback back then, but Flutie was among the players who crossed the line and offered up their services during the strike. Flutie became the Brian Daubach of the Patriots, and some players still have never forgiven him for it. Flutie had his moments in the final years of the Steve Grogan Era, but the team still belonged to Grogan and, to a lesser extent, Tony Eason, and there was no room for Flutie in the end.

After the Patriots cut Flutie in 1990, he took his act to the CFL. With British Columbia, Calgary and Toronto, he won three Grey Cups and six league MVP awards. He holds the record for most passes attempted and completed in Grey Cup games, as well as most passing yards in Grey Cup history. In a league which has a wider field and forward motion at the snap legal, Flutie took full advantage and became one of the most prolific passers in CFL history.

But his time eventually ran out in the great white north, and he returned to the NFL in 1998 with the Buffalo Bills and the San Diego Chargers. Despite some moments of brilliance and riveting game action, his return to the NFL has been marked by a seemingly endless string of quarterback controversies. He played Rob Johnson out of a job in Buffalo, then did the same to Drew Brees in San Diego. Brees would eventually win back his job, but Flutie's time in San Diego is less about what he did on the field versus what he did on the sidelines to team chemistry.

Now Flutie is back home in New England, and will have a chance to unseat Rohan Davey as primary backup to Tom Brady. Flutie isn't about to take Brady's job, and there is no guarantee he'll take Davey's. The Patriots took USC's Matt Cassel, who spent his time on Exposition Boulevard as backup to Matt Leinart, in the seventh round. Cassel is being hailed as a terrific sleeper pick, someone whose only problem in college was playing behind Leinart.

Is this how Flutie's final football epitaph will read? Spoiler? Taking up a roster spot? Taking a job away from a more deserving younger player because of his celebrity? Is Flutie poised to take away a job from Davey or Cassel even though one of the two is ultimately more qualified? Flutie will be 43 in October. Is this a case of name recognition triumphing over picking the true right man for the job?

Giving a job to Flutie based upon celebrity is as un-Patriotic as it gets. It just doesn't figure that Bill Belichick would allow something like that to happen, unless he truly expects Flutie to have enough left in his tank to claim the number two quarterback job. This may be just a case of more competition for summer training camp, but it is very newsworthy to bring in a player of his stature, as well as his legend status in the area. His big moment in Miami was only 21 years ago, and many fans out there remember that magical night as if it were yesterday. Flutie still has plenty of star power in the area, and his mere presence will strike a nerve with many fans.

Flutie's NFL numbers don't suggest that the star power factor should be ignored. In Flutie's 11 NFL seasons, he has played in ten or more games only five times. His highest passer rating was 87.4 in 1998. In the only season he played a full 16 games, 2001, he started every game and threw only 15 touchdown passes while suffering 18 picks. What Flutie is better remembered for rather than raw numbers is his two-year playoff run with Buffalo in 1998-99, which culminated in the 22-16 loss to Tennessee in the 1999 Music City Miracle game. Flutie was benched in favor of Johnson in that classic loss to the Titans, and some Bills fans have still never gotten over it.

Don't be surprised if Flutie is here only for some superfluous competition for the backup job to Brady. For Flutie to make the team, Belichick will have to officially give up on Davey, decide Jim Miller is too broken down to help, and a final consideration might just be Flutie being a quasi-tutor for Cassel. Davey's time in New England may ultimately have run out, but it seems nonsensical that if Davey goes, it is because of Flutie.

The backup quarterback job is incredibly important to the Patriots. Brady has not been injured for any length of time since suffering a high ankle sprain in the 2001 AFC Championship Game at Pittsburgh. Many experts have wondered what would become of the Patriots if Brady were to go down with an injury. If Flutie is the man-in-waiting, then Patriot Nation is in for the wackiest of all seasons if he is needed to come in and take over for Brady.

Teach Deion Branch and Bethel Johnson the Hail Mary, and things might just be okay. But just to be sure, make sure you keep drinking the good health of Brady every day.


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