Example: With 2:41 left in the fourth quarter against Syracuse last season and the score tied 13-13, Flutie, who was having a terrible day—he ended with seven completions in 23 attempts—had the ball on the BC 29. Poor Syracuse. Six plays later, Phelan was standing in the end zone with a Flutie pass. The touchdown was the result of an unexpected execution of a Flutie audible that was freelanced—or willed—into success. Says Phelan. "He takes chances and drives the coaching staff nuts. He's king of the broken play." Flutie's brother Bill, 22, a former split end for Brown, defends Doug's style: "He runs the plays he's supposed to run, unless he thinks of something better." If Bicknell had wanted discipline, he should have recruited out of the Marine Corps. "My only concern is that we not coach the spontaneity out of Doug," Bicknell says.
Good thinking, because Flutie mainly has three things going for him on the football field: spontaneity, brains and optimism. As Phelan says, "Once Doug gets believing, all the rest of us get believing. And I can tell you, Doug believes all the time."
That trait first manifested itself when Flutie was nine years old, living in Melbourne Beach, Fla. and playing safety for the South Beaches Cubs. It was a close game involving older boys, and Flutie's coach cautioned him, "Don't let them burn you." The opposition did, scoring the winning TD over Flutie. Afterward he told his father, "It won't ever happen again." It didn't. In kids' football, when teammates were still crying for their mothers, Flutie was reading defenses. When he was in the eighth grade, the family moved to Natick, a Boston suburb, two towns west of the BC campus. Once, at Natick High, Flutie drove his team down the field and then kicked a 38-yard field goal to win the game with no time left. He had never kicked a field goal in a game and had practiced placements only casually. Lamb says, "Success is part of his personality. He expects it."
But few big-time recruiters came calling on Flutie, for all the obvious reasons. Size was the most convenient excuse. "Everybody told me I was too short to be quarterback," says Flutie. "I heard it so much I finally started believing it myself." Flutie could have gone to someplace like Harvard, but while they can spell football in Cambridge, they can't play it very well.
BC Coach Ed Chlebek didn't want him, either—too small and so forth. But when Chlebek walked out after the 1980 season, his replacement, Bicknell, who had been a BC assistant before becoming head coach at Maine in 1976, was more receptive. That was not so much because he saw any more in Flutie than anyone else had seen, but because two quarterbacks the Eagles badly wanted, and thought they had, went elsewhere. When it came down to Flutie or nobody, it was close, but Boston College took Flutie.
At the start of his freshman year, Flutie was the No. 5 quarterback only because there wasn't a No. 6. But within six weeks after his arrival on the Heights he was the starter, having succeeded junior John Loughery, who says, "Doug takes situations and makes the best of them. I'm glad I had a chance to be his friend. I just wish he had come around to be my friend two years later." In his first season Flutie went up against No. 1-ranked Pitt, and while BC lost 29-24, he went 23 for 42 for 347 yards and two touchdowns.
Still, you could make a training film of Flutie in action and title it How Not to Play Quarterback. For example, he often gives up too soon on the plays as diagramed and scatters his own way, forgetting all about inside releases for backside backers, shades and offsets, drag routes and Y to A coming underneath. He merely does what will work and is sure it will, because it always has out there on Retrop Road in front of his house.
Richard says his son's helter-skelter style is partly an illusion. "When you're only about 5'10", you just look more reckless than when you're 6'2"," he says. Additionally, Flutie doesn't fake very well. When he passes, he drops his elbow and pushes the ball. Often his feet aren't set and he rushes the delivery, and he follows through like a baseball pitcher, which can make him appear awkward. He's also so excited by game time that he typically will play poorly in the first half, throwing balls so wildly that the opposition can hardly play for laughing. Against Syracuse last season he was 0 for 5 in the first half.
Worst of all, he threw a whopping 20 interceptions in '82. "If I do that again," says Flutie, "we're in trouble." This problem arises because he tries for a big play on every play. He loves touchdowns and hates field goals and punts. No matter how dire the situation, he'll never give up on making something happen. "I do lack patience," he admits.
Flutie not only has found a way to succeed on the field, but off it he's so decent it makes you want to throw up. We're talking the original Goody Two-shoes here. Pressured and repressured to think of one substantial thing he has done wrong in his life, Flutie, a communications major with a B average, mumbles, fumbles, looks uncomfortable, can't come up with anything and concludes, "This is embarrassing." Brother Bill says helpfully, "He's not trying to be perfect. He's just that way." And that way is just perfect with BC disciples.