At last, Doug Flutie is in the right place at the right time.
Don't laugh. One of the most exciting college football players of the '80s—but a man who has been rejected, scorned, ridiculed and humbled as a pro—is deliriously happy to find himself a born-again quarterback, this time with the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League. Sitting in Stanley Park recently and taking in the spectacular good looks of Vancouver with his wife, Laurie, and daughter, Alexa, 2�, Flutie said, "I have had more fun playing football here in the last month than I have had in my entire pro career. I tell you, this is so great, they don't have to pay me to play. However, they do have to pay me to practice."
And he laughs. A huge, heartfelt laugh that speaks volumes. Because Flutie in the CFL is the perfect confluence. Flutie's game is scrambling, throwing on the run, putting the pedal to the metal—a style of play that makes NFL types uneasy. But it is a style that the CFL game is built on. Truly, this is Flutie's natural environment, not that you could have convinced him of that six years ago. When he led Boston College against mighty Alabama in 1984, then Crimson Tide coach Ray Perkins said during the week leading up to the game that he thought Flutie would make a great CFL quarterback. "I took it as an insult," says Flutie, who responded by rallying BC to a 38-31 victory. He doesn't consider it an insult anymore.
Flutie, 27, remains the people's choice, the little guy (5'9", 175 pounds) competing in a big-man's game. But until now, because of his size, he has not been coveted as a football player by a single team since he was a star at Natick (Mass.) High. Boston College was the sole Division I-A school to offer him a scholarship, and then only at the last minute, when the Eagles discovered they had one to spare.
Despite winning the Heisman Trophy in '84, Flutie received plenty of advance indication that no NFL team was willing to make him a first-round draft pick in April 1985. So two months before the NFL draft he accepted Donald Trump's offer to play for the New Jersey Generals in the struggling USFL. Even then," Flutie was hired primarily for his celebrity value; whatever he did on the field would be a bonus. He passed for 2,109 yards and ran for another 465, but he broke his collarbone near the end of the season, and the league never reopened in '86.
The L.A. Rams, who had drafted Flutie in the 11th round, traded his rights to the Chicago Bears in October 1986. Flutie appealed in lour games that season and started a playoff game, but coach Mike Ditka chewed him out on national TV, and regular quarterback Jim McMahon "mostly ran his mouth about me," Flutie says.
The New England Patriots brought him home by way of a trade in October 1987, and he had his best season in the NFL in '88, when he started nine games and passed for 1,150 yards. But the coach at the time, Raymond Berry, "had no confidence in me," says Flutie, who started three games early last season and then was benched. Rod Rust was named Patriot coach last February, and according to Flutie, Rust promptly called him to say there was going to be a minicamp in March and Flutie was not invited. At which time not a single NFL team cared that he was available.
Regardless, the incontrovertible fact is that Flutie can play this game when he has the confidence of a coaching staff and is given a legitimate shot to establish himself in the offense. British Columbia coach Lary Kuharich says, "The NFL doesn't seem to ask one basic question: Is he a good football player or a bad football player?" After all, while Flutie appeared in just 21 games in four NFL seasons, he passed for 14 touchdowns, and his team won nine of the 14 games he started. But the NFL had decided in '84 that he was too short. Case closed. Minds, too. But those were the bad old days.
Now B.C. Lions president and general manager Joe Kapp, a former quarterback who starred in the CFL and then in the NFL (he led the Minnesota Vikings to the '70 Super Bowl) says, "The minute the NFL tells me they don't like somebody, I immediately like them. At the moment, all that Flutie is in the process of doing is captivating the entire country."