For the Purposes of Giving Flutie a Chance, Let's Say That He's 6-5

The Washington Post

Maybe now the slander will cease and desist. Maybe now the doubts will be expunged and the scouts exposed. Maybe now, finally, Doug Flutie will get his chance to play in the NFL. And maybe some day everybody will congratulate Mike Ditka, the last man on earth with an Eddie Munster haircut, for having enough good sense to look at the arm, not just the sleeve length.

Here's Flutie, who's only the most exciting college quarterback in the last 20 years. He has the arm, he has the stats, he has the magic. But then all of a sudden out of nowhere there's this backlash and nobody wants him; the only jobs he can get are on TV, selling cologne and Wheaties, like some kind of Mary Lou Retton. This team didn't want him and that team didn't want him.

The Rams, who were playing a couple of working Steves--Dils and Bartkowski--drafted him, but didn't want him. His hometown New England Patriots, who should be ashamed of themselves, didn't want him. Even the Green Bay Packers, who are as awful a combination as a goat cheese and pineapple pizza, didn't want him, preferring the electrifying Randy Wright.

Why? Because Flutie is short. (And cute as a button, don't you think?) "Put it this way," offered Doug Williams, a 6-foot-4-inch quarterback. "If I was his height, I'd be backpedaling, because they'd have made me a DB."

Flutie is 5 feet 9. Yes, you can stand there and eat off his head. But Fran Tarkenton played 18 years in the NFL, at 5-10. Joe Theismann logged 12 years in the NFL and three more in the CFL, at 5-11. We keep hearing Flutie is too short to throw over NFL linemen. Is Green Bay holding out for Manute Bol? C'mon, this isn't the pole vault, and Flutie isn't Emmanuel Lewis. Flutie can throw between and around people; he doesn't have to throw over them. The trouble with scouts' preoccupation with height is that sometimes they can't see the forest for the trees.

For years people have been telling Flutie that he's too short to play, and for years all he's done is beat them. How tall do you have to be to complete 677 passes for 10,579 yards and 67 touchdowns in a college career? How tall do you have to be to win the Heisman?

The Bears activated Flutie a week ago, and he made a brief appearance against Tampa Bay, throwing one incomplete pass. He's listed as the third-string quarterback, behind the helpless combo of Mike Tomczak and Steve Fuller. And if you saw Chicago play the Rams you know Ditka has no ardor for either. With Jim McMahon starting, the Bears have won 22 in a row. Without him, they're desperate. Flutie's history says: In Case of Emergency, Break Glass, Throw Me In.

If Ditka is enough of a caveman to make The Fridge a halfback, he can send Flutie out there even though the kid hasn't played in more than a year. It's on the road, so there will be less pressure than there'd be in Chicago. (A banner in Chicago recently: "It's Howdy Flutie Time."

What if it comes down to this: You're Ditka, you're down 4, you're 48 yards out, there's time for one last play. Who do you want throwing the ball? Fuller, Tomczak or Flutie? There's precedent for the question. Ask Jimmy Johnson. "They probably figured the darned kid can't throw it that far," Jack Bicknell, the BC coach, said after The Pass. "What they don't know is that the kid can throw it as far as he has to."

Some of the Bears weren't thrilled when Flutie was signed. Otis Wilson said, "I was shocked we even considered him." Asked what Flutie's worth to Chicago might be, Wilson fished his pocket for coins. "How much change I have here?" If there is resentment it may stem from the fact that while the Bears are now bulging at quarterback--four on the active roster, one more than every other team, two more than most; the Redskins list dainty Russ Grimm third string--the only one they covet is McMahon.

In college, Flutie filled every request you'd make of a quarterback: He had courage, confidence, determination, spirit, intelligence and magic. Maybe he is too short for the NFL. But just for the sake of argument let's compare Flutie's first year in the pros--1985 with the USFL's Generals--to the first years of some other quarterbacks you might know: Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Terry Bradshaw and this year's top gun, John Elway.

Flutie completed 47.7% of his passes. Unitas, at 55.6, and Namath, at 48.2, did better; Elway, 47.5, and Bradshaw, 38.1, did worse. Flutie's 2,109 yards was exceeded only by Namath's 2,220--and Namath played in five more games. Flutie had 13 touchdown passes; Namath, 18. But Unitas had nine; Elway, seven; Bradshaw, six. Flutie was intercepted 14 times. Only Unitas, with 10, had fewer. You can harrumph and say it was the USFL. But Buffalo didn't hold that against Jim Kelly.

Speaking for Flutie fans everywhere, we're not saying he'll be anywhere near as good as those guys. He may be worse than than Fuller, Tomczak, Dils and Wright. He may be worse than Gary Beban and Terry Baker. But he's earned the right to fail, hasn't he? All we are saying--and I think there might be a lyric here someplace--is give him a chance.

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