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Something's got to give
Flutie, Testaverde go head-to-head in Week 10
Posted: Sunday November 08, 1998 10:03 AM
EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (AP) -- Vinny Testaverde stood on the Orange Bowl sideline and watched the clock tick down on one of the Miami Hurricanes' most satisfying victories. Then, the Magic Flutie took it away.
Nearly 14 years later, he's not eager to see Doug Flutie pull off any more sleight of hand when he brings the Buffalo Bills to the Meadowlands to face the New York Jets on Sunday. But Testaverde wouldn't be surprised if it happens.
"It was one of the greatest games I've ever seen," says Testaverde, a Hurricanes redshirt on that late November afternoon when Flutie's 48-yard desperation pass found Gerard Phelan in the end zone at the buzzer, lifting Boston College to an unlikely victory.
That pass certified Flutie's stardom, clinched the Heisman Trophy - an award Testaverde would win two years later - and still is a topic of conversation in football circles.
"The teams just went back and forth," Testaverde says. "We were saying on the sideline that whoever has the ball last will win and that was Doug and that's how it worked out."
Things rarely worked out in the NFL for Flutie and Testaverde - until now. And their success has become one of the most inspiring stories this season.
They are ranked 1-2 in AFC passing. Testaverde is 5-0 as Jets starter, lifting the team into a four-way first-place tie in the AFC East that also includes the Bills, who have won their last five games, four guided by Flutie.
Both began the year as backups and through injury (Buffalo's Rob Johnson) and poor play (New York's Glenn Foley, who went to Boston College partly because Flutie was his idol) have become regulars, perhaps Pro Bowlers.
"Vinny has taken heat over the years and it amazes me," Flutie says. "Every time Vinny threw an interception, they said it was because he's not smart enough or something, and every time I threw an interception, it was because I'm too short. The media keeps throwing these stigmas on people.
"Vinny has done just fine. Just leave him alone and let him play and Vinny is showing what he can do."
Adds Testaverde, "We're both glad we're in the position we are today. We've gone down the same road to how we got here."
Well, not quite. In fact, despite their shared disappointments in the NFL, the roads have been quite different for the two quarterbacks.
Despite his Heisman and his heroics in college, Flutie went undrafted because, as Jets coach Bill Parcells notes, "He's not a prototype."
Listed at 5-foot-10 and more like 5-8 - smallish Jets receiver Wayne Chrebet, also listed at 5-10, claims he towers over the quarterback - Flutie signed with the USFL's New Jersey Generals. He got into the NFL the next year, 1986, signing with the Bears and appearing in four games, then starting in a playoff loss to Washington.
Flutie headed back to New England the next year and started nine games in 1988 and three in '89, but the Patriots - then the lowly Patriots - let him go.
He headed to Canada, where the wide field, three downs and liberal play-calling fit him perfectly. Flutie won six Most Outstanding Player awards and three Grey Cups in the CFL, while the NFL looked on, seemingly disinterested.
But when Buffalo went looking for a quarterback, it turned to Canada. And Flutie.
"Doug was available," says Bills coach Wade Phillips, who on Wednesday handed Flutie the starting job over Johnson. "And we told him, 'We'd like to have you here and will utilize your talents. We won't put you in a system that's not conducive to your talent. We'll change our system to what you do."
Then they signed Johnson to a $25 million deal and put Flutie on the bench, only to have Johnson hurt his ribs and Flutie rescue the team, becoming a folk hero in the process.
"Guys on the field at different times after the game - Steve Young, in particular - say what's happened to me is a great inspiration," Flutie says. "They're genuinely happy for me, it appears, with no resentment. They're happy for me to get this opportunity and it's kind of a nice thing to hear that.
"I feel excited about the fact Wade has that kind of confidence in me and the way I have played. It's a special pride where you come into a situation where maybe not a lot is expected and I've won some people over and they appreciate me."
Testaverde almost never has felt appreciated. He spent 10 of his first 11 pro seasons on losing teams. The No. 1 overall draft pick in 1987, he played for awful teams in Tampa, Cleveland and Baltimore - with the exception of the 1994 Browns, whom he led to an 11-5 mark and a playoff berth.
Because of his strong arm, solid (6-5, 238 pounds) build and college credentials, Testaverde was supposed to be a star. When it didn't happen, he was considered a bust. As recently as February, Parcells expressed no interest in the free agent.
"There were high expectations when I first came in, being the No. 1 pick, going to a team that didn't win many games before I got there," Testaverde says. "All of a sudden, we were going to win a championship overnight. I don't believe that kind of thing happens."
Testaverde believes that a dozen years later, after all the tough times and belittling comments, maybe it could happen with the Jets, whom he joined in June.
"I had some other options," he said. "But I felt like if I wanted a chance to win a championship, it was going to be with a coach like Bill Parcells, who knew how to take a team from what they were a few years ago, 1-15, to a championship team."
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