Flutie’s Hail Mary Remembered
The Pass still is shown over and over on television -- Doug Flutie’s 48-yard touchdown heave through a misty night sky in Miami that landed in Gerard Phelan’s hands and football lore.
On the day after Thanksgiving 20 years ago, Boston College’s colorful quarterback connected on the last play to win that game 47-45, then kept winning -- the Heisman Trophy, and the Cotton Bowl.
“The fact we’re still talking about it 20 years later makes it seem the more impressive,” Flutie said. “Not the play itself, but the whole hype around it. It makes it seem more significant.”
And not just to the players involved.
“The thing I marvel at is the impact it has had on the sports fan,” Phelan said. “Over time, you discover greatness. If it stands the test of time, it must be great.”
Phelan is an executive with a Boston-area printing firm and said he’s asked about the play every day. Flutie is still a quarterback, filling a backup role with the San Diego Chargers at age 42.
“Ever since I was 30 years old, I kept saying, ‘Two more years, two more years.’ I was hoping to have a decent professional career,” he said. “Ever since I was 40, I’ve said, ‘Well, maybe one more.”’
In 1984, the Hurricanes were defending national champions and had Bernie Kosar at quarterback. The Eagles had grown from a weak program to a powerhouse in Flutie’s four years.
They met in Miami on Nov. 23, 1984. Flutie threw for 472 yards and three touchdowns, Kosar threw for 447 yards and two touchdowns and the teams combined for more than 1,200 yards.
On the sidelines, coaches Jimmy Johnson of Miami and Jack Bicknell of Boston College faced the same dilemma. So did Miami secondary coach Butch Davis, now head coach of the Cleveland Browns:
How do we shut these guys down?
“I swear we were playing our tails off, but it was one of those things. We couldn’t stop them,” said Bicknell, now a coach in NFL Europe, “but the other quarterback was pretty darn good.”
Not as good as Flutie, the supremely confident scrambler who was listed by the school as 5-foot-9 but told reporters he was 5-9 3/4 . So when Miami took a 45-41 lead with 28 seconds left on Melvin Bratton’s fourth touchdown, he didn’t give up.
The Eagles got the ball back at their 20.
In the huddle, Flutie told teammates that if they could get the ball to the 50 they had a chance. They got to the Miami 48 but there were only 6 seconds left.
The next play was called “Flood Tip.” Three receivers run down the right side into the end zone and one is supposed to tip the ball to another.
But first Flutie had to throw it 63 yards, having ended up on his own 37 when he rolled out to the right.
“He threw this beautiful spiral,” said Reid Oslin, who was BC’s sports information director and was on the field. “It went over the Miami defenders and you couldn’t see who was back there from our vantage point.
“All of a sudden, the back judge just put up his hands and walked off the field. The guy never changed the expression on his face and that was it.”
There was no time left. The dramatic battle of two powerful offenses was over.
“That last play, call it luck or call it whatever you want, was just an exclamation point on the game,” Bicknell said.
It was the only nationally televised college game of the day, and fans who had gathered with their families for the Thanksgiving weekend watched it together.
That play led in part to increased admissions applications at BC and helped football recruiting. Flutie went on to play in the U.S. Football League, the Canadian Football League and the NFL.
“Although I’d love for everybody to remember a lot of the other things I’ve achieved in my career, at least I have that signature moment to be remembered by,” he said. “Very few days go by without it being brought up.”