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Flutie always finds ways to win
Posted: Friday October 23, 1998 10:51 AM
Heroes come in all sizes, but Doug Flutie, the NFL's answer to Mighty Mouse, will always be one of the best at getting it done.
From that famous Hail Mary against the Miami Hurricanes 15 years ago to the makeshift bootleg he ran in to win in the closing seconds last week, he's made his name on memorable victories.
For me, Sunday was not only nostalgic, but slightly painful -- after the highlights of the Bills' 17-16 win over the Jaguars, all the networks showed clips of Flutie running for a similar winning touchdown as a New England Patriot in 1988, a score that came at my expense.
It was early October, I was coaching the Indianapolis Colts, and we were leading late. Flutie came off the bench to replace Steve Grogan, and I can remember telling my defensive coordinator to watch out for the bootleg.
The only difference was that this Flutie magic was a 13-yard fourth-down run, with a full 24 seconds left, instead of the 13 ticks remaining when Flutie pulled his last-minute heroics last week.
When I saw him line up at the goal line on Sunday, I thought for sure it was the bootleg again. All the blocking was there for the same cruel run to the left corner of the end zone. As it turns out, the play was more of an inventive ad lib Flutie came up with in desperation.
The play had called for a Thurman Thomas run, but signals got crossed up and Flutie wound up taking it himself. It's funny -- you teach eighth-grade quarterbacks that if they miss the handoff, they should head for the hole where the ball was supposed to go to, but nobody ever gets that right. Flutie's the perfect guy to fix a broken play.
I was never lucky enough to coach Flutie -- the Patriots were done with me long before he came to New England in 1987 for the bargain price of an eighth-round pick -- they don't even exist anymore.
When Flutie was finishing up his college career, I can remember then-Patriots owner Bill Sullivan -- himself a Boston College grad -- asking me what I thought about the Heisman Trophy winner. I told him I'd love to get him -- not only was he a local, I really thought we could win with him. I also wanted to hire his offensive coordinator at Boston College, Tom Coughlin.
We couldn't get Flutie or Coughlin then, but I recommended Coughlin to Eagles coach Marion Campbell, who gave him his start in the NFL as the wide receivers coach in Philadelphia. As Coughlin found out Sunday, it's better to coach with Flutie than against him.
Everyone points out that Flutie's only 5-foot-9, but they don't list height on the scoreboard, where he usually comes up pretty big. There must be something in the water in Buffalo that lets little guys do big things -- Flutie's thriving, and I think of all that Steve Tasker accomplished with a 5-foot-9 frame, and Thurman Thomas is barely an inch taller. How tall could Marv Levy have been?
Before Flutie's 1998 season is over, it may have more than a bootleg touchdown run in common with '88. That was his best year in the NFL, with nine starts and career-bests in touchdowns (eight) and yards (1,150). He already has five touchdowns and 599 yards, and how many quarterbacks can have their best season at age 36? (Incidentally, Friday's his birthday.)
Now he's the starter for the Bills, who lurk just one game off the AFC East lead. If Buffalo can beat winless Carolina this week, they'll carry a four-game winning streak into a crucial stretch of five divisional games in five weeks.
The Bills get three of those at home, then end with a soft four-game run that includes games at woeful Cincinnati, at home against Oakland and the finale against his old coach, Mike Ditka, in New Orleans.
You wouldn't think Buffalo would be a playoff team, but with Flutie scrambling around, would you bet against him? Bills fans are rallying behind him, too -- 77,635 showed up Sunday for Flutie's first start in nine years, and those same Jaguars drew just 41,000 to Rich Stadium last season.
Flutie has another three games or so while Johnson's ribs heal to show coaches he's their starter. Johnson might be making $5 million a year, but he's not an Elway or Marino. He's certainly replaceable. If Flutie can produce victories, they've got to stick with him.
He brings the same thing to the field that Roger Staubach brought to the Cowboys -- the ability to win any game. That's hard to find in the NFL these days.
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