He’s still here almost every day, not in football-practice gear but blended with undergraduates walking between classes on the hilly campus overlooking Boston. A communications major, Doug Flutie is doing his final semester’s work at Boston College after playing quarterback last spring for the New Jersey Generals.
He says he’s in the best shape of his life at 168 pounds, ready to play football--if only he had a game this weekend. These days, Flutie would seem to want for nothing. He’s rich, making $8.3 million over the next few years with his Generals’ contract. Last month he was married. He and wife Laurie shortly will be seen together in a TV commercial for English Leather. He has a host of other endorsements. Opening soon: Flutie’s on Fulton, a New York restaurant; Phelan’s Bar will be in the basement, Phelan being Gerard, Flutie’s faithful friend who caught his miracle pass to beat Miami last fall. Flutie has his national TV contract. He’s back on campus. It’s all a great way to pass the time when you can’t pass a football.
That’s the one problem, though--Flutie’s now enduring the longest season of his life. It’s an offseason, and more, a lull that might seem endless to him before it’s over. Playing back-to-back seasons last fall with BC and this spring with the Generals was fun. What isn’t fun are back-to-back offseasons, which will drag on until this time next year when the USFL plans to switch from a spring to a fall schedule. Flutie must wait before he can prove the point he wants to make, the one thing that eludes him in the wake of his Heisman Trophy year--"I’m going to try to prove it,” he says, with a mixture of enthusiasm and determination. He wants to show he can be a top pro quarterback. A great one.
“I want to be great,” he says. “Nobody wants to be second string.”
Unexpectedly, that’s a prospect facing him since the Generals and Houston Gamblers merged, enabling the Generals’ flamboyant owner, Donald Trump, to trump Flutie with Jim Kelly, the USFL’s top quarterback. Flutie figures he’ll be traded, but he isn’t sure, and doesn’t know where to if he is. He doesn’t welcome a trade. “It’d be a new situation, another starting over,” he says. “New players. A new offense. I’d like to stay and fight it out for the job.”
But if he is to be traded, he’d like to know soon. This is up to Trump. “I don’t always understand his motives,” says Flutie. “What are his intentions? I haven’t been able to figure the man out. But I have a lot of respect for him. All I want to know is what lies in the future for Doug Flutie.”
Last season in New Jersey, Flutie admits he might have been trying to do too much too quickly. “Personally, I was in a hurry,” he says. “I was anxious to go out and make my point.”
But he sounds wiser now. “I’m kind of excited about some things I did. I continued to do a lot of things I did in college. . . . I heard the boos, but I came back strong. We never lost a game at home when I played.
“But I didn’t put up the statistics during the season.” In 15 games, he completed 47.7% of his passes. He threw 13 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions. “I’ve heard it said it was something like John Elway’s rookie year. I was thrown into it. I memorized the offense, but I didn’t have the concepts down. They didn’t sink in. At BC, everything was second nature. You let it fly instead of thinking about it. The transition to a pro offense is a big step.”
Not surprisingly, he found the Generals’ offense “conservative,” built as it was, for good reason, around Herschel Walker’s running. “Obviously, I’d like to put the ball up 40 or 50 times a game,” he says. Still, he “enjoyed playing for Coach (Walt) Michaels. He played, he’s a player’s coach. He doesn’t work you to death.”
Ironically, though, the Generals put in rollout plays, “probably trying to make it easier on myself, an attempt to make me feel comfortable,” says Flutie. “But at BC I was a pocket passer. I’ve never thrown that well on the run.” Further, it was a “designed bootleg” play that ended his season--he suffered a broken collarbone when tackled from behind by 285-pound Reggie White of Memphis as he circled left end. “I felt I was past him and I wasn’t expecting it. That’s when you get hurt.”
The pro quarterback Flutie likens himself to is Joe Theismann. “He took off to Canada at first to prove himself. When he came to the Redskins he had to return punts. It took four or five years for him to get the opportunity.” Flutie believes he and Theismann are similar in their “competitiveness,” their “ability to make things happen, to make the big play,” their mobility and durability.
Critics say Flutie never will be a great pro quarterback because he’s this or that: he’s too short; he throws too many bad passes; he can’t get away in the pros with what he got away with in college, all those “Hail Marys” and busted plays he made bedazzling.
But in New England these opinions are about as palatable as a plate of cold beans. Here, he remains a larger-than-life sports legend only Boston seems capable of producing, then worshiping with an unrivaled zeal. Flutie’s admirers are led by his former BC coach, Jack Bicknell.
“Flutie,” says Bicknell, “wanted the ball in key spots. He really wanted the ball, the chance to win it or lose it.
“I remember playing baseball; I didn’t want the ball hit to me in a key situation. You know, hit to me right at my feet.
“Flutie’s got to be understood. He’s not a sprint-out passer. He’s a regular quarterback. We didn’t change our offense for him. We let him improvise. We didn’t treat him like a robot, try to hold him back. When he threw a little shovel pass, we didn’t say don’t ever do that again. We said, that’s okay as long as it works. You have to trust his athletic instincts.
“There’s no such thing as being too short to be in the pocket. You don’t look over linemen, you look in the cracks. A 6-3 quarterback does that.
“I see him exactly as I see Theismann.”
And Jim Kelly?
“Kelly’s a great player,” says Bicknell, “but if we’re choosing up sides, you take Kelly, I’ll take Flutie, and let’s go play.”