One year ago, on a windy, rainy Thanksgiving Friday in the Orange Bowl, Boston College was six seconds away from losing to Miami when BC quarterback Doug Flutie launched a 64-yard pass that spiraled into football folklore by way of the outstretched arms of his best friend, wide receiver Gerard Phelan. The Pass was the high point in a college career that had been pure fairy tale from the outset. But it also marked the beginning of a year that has tested young Flutie in ways he could not have imagined on that glorious day.
It is autumn in Chestnut Hill, Mass. The leaves have blazed and fallen once more, and the footpaths that crisscross the Boston College campus are paved with gold. Down on the field in Alumni Stadium, the football team is making familiar autumnal noises—the thud and slap of padded bodies colliding, the drumming of running feet that dwindles to a muffled tattoo as the pursuers abandon the chase and the ballcarrier hurtles on alone.
"It's an eerie feeling that you're missing something, that something's happening without you," Flutie says. "It's like you're supposed to be somewhere, but you have nowhere to go."
For the first time since he was eight, Flutie is spending a football season as a spectator. He is back at BC finishing the communications degree that was interrupted last January when Donald Trump gave him $8.3 million to play for the New Jersey Generals of the USFL. In return, Flutie was supposed to save Trump's failing spring league, attract a new network TV contract and lead the Generals to the Summer Bowl championship. None of those things happened. Flutie's rookie season was a mixed bag, disappointing in some ways, remarkable in others.
Less than a month after his last college all-star game, Flutie made his first start as a pro quarterback. He played in 15 games, 10 of them victories. Then on June 1, early in the second quarter of the Generals' 15th game, he rolled out to his left on a third down and was tackled by 284-pound Reggie White of the Memphis Showboats. Flutie's left collarbone was broken. His season was finished.
In July, Flutie learned from a reporter that New Jersey would merge with Houston and that the Gamblers' Jim Kelly, the USFL's top quarterback, was the probable choice of the merged ownership for Flutie's spot. Today, Flutie still does not know what is to become of him, his team or his league.
Meanwhile, Flutie is back home in Natick, Mass., a western suburb of Boston. He is surrounded by the people who care for him most: his new wife, his folks, his brothers and his sister, old friends, former coaches. And he is free of financial worry. Trump's contract may not guarantee Flutie a job, but it does assure him ample income for a long time to come.
Flutie commutes the 12 miles from Natick to Chestnut Hill for classes, plays pickup basketball to stay in shape and watches his brother Darren, a sophomore wide receiver for BC, at football practice. On weekends he goes to New York City to play analyst on ABC's College Football Scoreboard. For the average undergraduate, it would be a full life. For Flutie, it is sometimes strangely aimless. "Just last night I was lying in bed thinking about it," he says. "I wanted to get together with some guys and throw the ball around, but there's no one to throw it with. They're all playing now."
Mainly, though, Flutie is happy to be home. "When I was playing for the Generals, it seemed like college football was so long ago," he says. "Now that I'm back at BC, it seems like I still belong with the guys on the team and it was only yesterday that the season ended. It's like nothing's changed. I love being on campus because I know everyone. It seemed like with the Generals I was out of my element."
"Nobody's ever had such a difficult route to pro football," says BC coach Jack Bicknell. "He was a month late reporting. He'd missed all but one of the preseason games. Brian Sipe was gone. He's 22 years old. He gets thrown into the big media thing, everybody wanting magic every game he plays. It was ridiculous, as I see it."