Flutie Considers His Rookie Season a Success
Doug Flutie has bruised passing statistics, a broken collarbone and a lot of the problems of other, less-heralded rookies.
He hasn’t turned out to be quite the superstar that New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump sought when he paid $5 million-$8 million to sign Flutie last February. Still, Flutie has a surprising sense of accomplishment about a first season that may now be over.
“Looking back, it has been successful,” Flutie said. “We’re a game out of first place and we’re in a spot to make the playoffs. If you had told me in my rookie season we would be going to the playoffs, I would be happy.”
The Generals have been successful this United States Football League season. The best team Trump could buy is 10-5 with three regular-season games left and only one victory away from a playoff berth.
But it is a playoff in which Flutie may not play. He will be sidelined at least for the remainder of the regular season with the broken collarbone suffered June 1 in a game against Memphis, and it’s questionable whether he will return for the postseason.
Flutie had a lot going for him coming into the pros. There was a long line of plaudits for the 5-foot-9 Boston College quarterback. He was a consensus All-American, a Heisman Trophy winner, good looking, bright, nimble, intelligent and talented.
But through 15 games this season, Flutie completed 134 of 281 passes for 2,109 yards and 13 touchdowns. That was only a 48% completion percentage, and Flutie was 11th in the league’s quarterback rankings. The Generals are last in the USFL in passing.
“You have to remember he is still a rookie,” General Coach Walt Michaels said. “You can’t slice it any other way. With the other professional league (the National Football League) you would say he has no business playing. But in this league, he is a rookie, and we are using him the best way we know how.”
And for the Generals, that means handing the ball off to Herschel Walker, the club’s other Heisman Trophy winner, who is on the verge of topping Eric Dickerson’s professional single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards.
“I think Flutie has certainly done all the things New Jersey was looking for when they signed him,” Memphis Coach Pepper Rogers said. “He is a great bootleg runner who can throw the play action pass, and he has Herschel to fake to and give to. I think they are doing exactly the right thing.”
The Generals have utilized Flutie’s quickness and his ability on the rollout and bootleg to open things up for Walker. Flutie, who has 465 yards rushing, said he has made adjustments.
“It has been a different experience for me because now I am with a running football team as opposed to a passing one,” said Flutie, who set the NCAA’s career passing and offense records with Boston College.
The biggest change for Flutie has been becoming a controlled passer.
“At Boston College, I reached back and threw the ball upfield, throwing for 20-to-25 yards a play rather than dumping it off,” he said. “You have to be a little more careful in the pros. It’s more a field position-type of game where you are worrying about turnovers and being in decent field position. I’m more used to getting the ball and trying to score.”
The curtailing of his passing and his poor passing performance this season has not taken away Flutie’s confidence in his ability.
“Obviously, I would have liked to have thrown for a higher percentage, but it really doesn’t matter if we are winning,” he said. “As a sophomore in college, I was third or fourth in the nation in total yardage, but I threw for 46 percent and had 20 interceptions.
“It takes time. In my senior year, I threw for 60 percent with only 11 or 12 interceptions. So it takes time for that type of efficiency to come around.”
Generals tight end Jeff Spek has seen his pass receptions drop from 45 last season with Brian Sipe at quarterback to a figure in the teens this year with Flutie. But he thinks Flutie will improve.
“He has a remarkable sense of where everybody is on the field, both defensively and offensively,” Spek said. “He has accommodated himself in learning the offense, learning to hit his receivers on the break versus in the beginning of the season he did not know where he wanted to go.”
Flutie’s greatest sense of accomplishment this year has been leading the Generals to comeback victories over Tampa Bay, Los Angeles and Houston.
“I haven’t been the workhorse of the team,” he said. “Herschel has and Herschel is the guy we turn to most of the time. But when the situation has called for it at the end of a game when we have been down, I have been able to do the job and pull it out. That’s what I am most proud of this season.”
And that’s what is most encouraging to Michaels.
“I think we have just begun to scratch the surface with him,” said Michaels. “We keep forgetting he is a rookie and is still learning.”