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It doesn't matter if he ever plays a down of pro football, although it would be nice. It doesn't matter if he ever quarterbacks another game for Boston College, although it will be necessary. It doesn't matter, because on one wildly wonderful play, punctuating a wildly wonderful game—if you were there and sat down you couldn't see; if you went out for a hot dog, you missed two touchdowns—Douglas Richard Flutie summed up a wildly wonderful college career last Friday in unsunny Miami. Never mind that he has two more games to play. They can only be anticlimactic.
Of course with Flutie you never know. Forty games into the most prolific passing career any college quarterback has ever had, you have to think in terms of "anything can happen" and other clich�s. With Flutie, says Gil Brandt of the Dallas Cowboys, one of the few scouts who stands apart from the NFL's doubting Thomases and actually believes this outrageous little rascal can cut it as a pro, life is a magic show, and " Doug Flutie never loses, he only runs out of time." But pick your own clich�. With Flutie, they all apply.
"It's not over until the last play"? This was Friday's final play: From the line of scrimmage, a Flutieball arched high into that grieving Miami sky, covering 64 yards from toe to toe, to roommate Gerard Phelan—Flutie pushing off on his right toe and throwing into the gusting wind and rain, Phelan, in the end zone, falling directly behind and beneath the groping hands of two Miami defenders who were doing a stunning impersonation of an open door.
"It's the size of the fight in the man, not the size of the man in the fight"? At 5'9�"—if you don't give him the three-fourths, Flutie complains—little Dougie is not much bigger than the Heisman Trophy he will most certainly be awarded this week, deserving as he is of every metallic ounce. Miami was the biggest team on his menu. And on a day better suited for ducks, the Eagles soared with Flutie, his passing alone accounting for 472 yards and three touchdowns, his running for nine yards and another TD. When the computers stopped humming, he had become the first 10,000-yard passer in major-college history. And when he went back outside an hour afterward, still in uniform so a friend could pose him in front of the Orange Bowl scoreboard, the evidence still glistened in the gloaming: Boston College 47, defending national champion Miami 45. Cast it in bronze and put it on the mantel.
There were more than a few touches of improbability in this victory, however, just as Flutie's entire career has seemed so improbable. For in this game of breathtakingly proficient, precision passing—little Flutie and Miami's 6'5" sophomore phenom Bernie Kosar put the ball up 84 times for 919 yards between them—it was that most imprecise of passes that did the dirty deed. The Hail Mary. The Everybody Go Long. The play you launch on a wing and a prayer when all time is gone and all else has failed. In the BC playbook, it's called Flood Tip, and it works (rarely) the way it sounds.
With six seconds on the clock and Miami ahead 45-41, three BC receivers were deployed far to the right side, with Phelan as the middle man. At the snap, they were to sprint downfield as fast and as far as they could, in hopes of arriving in the end zone together—flooding it—about the same time Flutie's pass got there. (Fullback Steve Strachan was supposed to block for Flutie, but he, too, ran deep downfield.) If any one was near the ball but couldn't catch it, his job was to tip it up in the air for somebody who could, somebody, the Eagles hoped, in the same color jersey. On the sideline as the play started, coach Jack Bicknell was "already forming in my mind what I would tell our kids after we lost." That's how much faith he had in Flood Tip.
But such a play works "more often than you would think," says Flutie. "I'd say it's a 50-50." However, he could recall it working exactly one time, against Temple earlier this year. But then, he says, "I've been lucky all my life, so why not?" Phelan said later that, as a senior in a mostly senior cast of Eagles who have learned to believe in miracles, "You get on the same frequency with Doug and somehow things happen. You can't always explain it."
Phelan is the best of as sure-handed a group of receivers as any one team has ever had. The Hurricanes tried combination coverages on both sides, with linebackers spraying out to support against the pass and to contain Flutie's scrambling. Miami always seemed just a fingertip away from interceding, but Troy Stradford, Scott Gieselman, Kelvin Martin, et al., made grab after tight-fingered grab of the wet ball.
Among all the others until that final moment, it was Phelan that Flutie had found most often—10 times for 178 yards and a touchdown. Then, on the last play, when Phelan went by Hurricane defensive back Darrell Fullington (alas, a freshman), he was surprised that Fullington let him go. "He must have thought Doug couldn't throw it that far," Phelan said. Phelan was a full step ahead at the Miami 10. Fullington and Reggie Sutton, another of the three Miami defenders in the area, backpedaled like outfielders and still were in good position right in front of the goal line as the fly ball came down.
Upfield, Miami had rushed only two men, but one of them, Jerome Brown, had squeezed through and chased Flutie out of the pocket and to his right. But that was exactly how Flutie wanted it. "The scrambling is important—it gives me the time I need on such a play," he said. (It's oh so matter of fact with Flutie, you understand.) "I knew I could throw it that far, even against the wind. I can throw 75 yards if I have to. Actually, I had to take a little off it to keep it in the end zone." (See?)