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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 17, 2006

QB Flutie was a small wonder

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

When quarterback Doug Flutie announced his retirement from the New England Patriots and the National Football League the other day he pointedly did not say he was giving up the sport.

"I'm just a big kid," the 43-year-old Flutie, clad in characteristic sneakers and jeans, told the assembled media, according to The Associated Press. "I enjoy playing ... it could be in the backyard as far as I'm concerned."

That right there has been the essence of Flutie, the thing that defined him and helped give him his magic: He always looked like he was playing in somebody's backyard, empty lot or neighborhood park. Always playing for the sheer fun of it. If not drawing up plays in the dirt as he went along.

That 48-yard "Hail Mary" touchdown pass on the last play of the game to give Boston College the upset of Miami in 1984. The dropkicked extra point against the Dolphins in January. Typical freewheeling, fun-loving Flutie. With him, scrambling, throwing prayer passes, every game was an evening or afternoon at the improv.

As one of his coaches at BC once put it, "Doug Flutie doesn't always do what he's supposed to do thank God!"

In that Flutie appealed to the average fan on so many levels. He played a game with which park rats and backyard kids were familiar and he did it at a size that defied convention and the almighty NFL measureables. In fact, at the press conference, Flutie owned up to being less than the 5 feet, 10 inches he has usually been listed at. Not that anybody who had ever stood next to him was really surprised.

Not only was he deemed too small for the NFL, but for major college, too. The only Division I-A school to offer him a scholarship reneged for a time. BC coach Ed Chlebek first offered and then withdrew the offer to Flutie. Only after Chlebek was fired was somebody able to talk his successor, Jack Bicknell, into giving Flutie the Eagles' last scholarship.

Who knew it would become a fateful, multi-million-dollar decision for all concerned? Thanks to a record-setting senior year and that "Magic Flutie" pass to beat Miami, BC gained an overnight visibility and marketability that became known in business classes as the "Flutie Factor."

Meanwhile, Flutie went on to play 21 seasons in the pros spread across eight teams in the USFL, Canada and the NFL. There would be 66 NFL starts and one Pro Bowl squad. Flutie, though, was at his best in Canada, where the wide-open game best suited his abilities and temperament, allowing him to win six most outstanding player awards and three Grey Cups in eight seasons.

Fittingly, Flutie's last play was the dropkick he converted against the Dolphins, the first one for an extra point in the NFL since 1941. The last play of his pro career, anyway. For the backyard still beckons.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.