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Passing Time
Leigh Montville
June 22, 1998
At 35 and with nothing left to prove in Canada, little Doug Flutie is taking one last shot at making it big in the NFL
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June 22, 1998

Passing Time

At 35 and with nothing left to prove in Canada, little Doug Flutie is taking one last shot at making it big in the NFL

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The place is still the same: his hometown, Natick. His parents have moved to Florida, and he has moved into a big house (with a full-sized basketball court) designed by his wife, Laurie, but he still goes to the same bank, eats in the same restaurants, shops in the same stores. He still has the same friends.

The eeriest aspect of a life that appears frozen in time is his career. He is back at the beginning. The misconceptions and preconceptions, the computer-printout prejudices that he has battled all these years, that he quieted with eight seasons of excellence in the Canadian Football League, have returned. Too small. Too short. Too...too something. Can't play. Can't survive. Can't. He is back in the NFL, back behind some other quarterback on the depth chart. He is the underdog again, this time with the Buffalo Bills.

"Do you think you'll get a chance in Buffalo?" he is asked.

"We'll see," the 35-year-old teenager replies, as he moves to the next event in his teenager's day. "All I can worry about is me. The rest will be decided by other people."

He knows the rules. He has been here before.

"I could retire tomorrow and be perfectly happy," Flutie says. "Well, 90 percent happy. I'm proud of what I've done in Canada. I love that league. I love the people in that league. I came back to the NFL because I just want to see what will happen. To take a shot. I didn't want to be 50, sitting somewhere and wishing I'd taken one more look."

The NFL is his one bit of unfinished business. He was the best college player in the country his senior year. He was the best player in CFL history, winner of six Most Outstanding Player awards in eight years, quarterback of three Grey Cup champions, holder of most of the league's passing records. Even in the old USFL, as quarterback of the New Jersey Generals in 1985, he was a diamond in Donald Trump's little showcase.

Only the NFL has resisted his scrambling, free-form charm, the sight of a little man weaving through fat-boy peril to complete passes on the run. By signing with the Bills in January, by taking a pay cut from the $1 million he made last year in Canada to the NFL minimum $275,000 plus a $50,000 signing bonus and incentives, by surrendering all-out control of the show in Toronto with the defending-champion Argonauts to stand behind recently acquired Buffalo quarterback Rob Johnson, Flutie has given himself one more chance. It seems to have come at a high price.

"But Doug has wanted this for a long time," says Mula. "He's always said, 'What about the NFL? Find out about the NFL.' There have been times when a couple of teams have shown interest, but he hasn't been available. There have been times when he has been available but teams haven't shown much interest. This is the first time it's worked out."

As good as the CFL experience was in British Columbia for two years and Calgary for four and finally in Toronto for two more, it was an exercise in obscurity as far as most people in the U.S. were concerned. What did they know? A clip might appear during the last few minutes of SportsCenter, probably a snowy scene, bodies slip-sliding across a field that seemed too long and too wide. A game might be shown in its entirety on ESPN2, probably on a delayed telecast between some mountain-bike extravaganza and a strongman competition from Uruguay.

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