The last American hero

The greatest moment in college football history

Doug Flutie retired today.

Doug Flutie retired Monday, ending a 21-year career in which the undersized Heisman Trophy winner threw one of college football’s most famous passes and played a dozen seasons in the NFL.

“It’s just been a fun run for me,” the 43-year-old Flutie said.


Flutie finishes with 14,715 passing yards and 86 touchdowns in the NFL, spending most of his time as a backup. Last season, he converted the league’s first drop kick for an extra point since the 1941 NFL title game.

“If that ends up being my last play, it wouldn’t be bad,” Flutie said after the game, a mostly meaningless regular season-ending loss to the Miami Dolphins.

His college career was also punctuated by a play that endures as one of the most memorable in the sport. He won the 1984 Heisman after connecting with Gerard Phelan on a desperation 48-yard touchdown pass that beat Miami as time expired.

But Flutie started only six games in the last four seasons, the first three with San Diego.

“If he knew he was going out there to play and start, he would not retire. It would be an easy choice for him,” Phelan said Monday, but “Sundays are frustrating.”

Flutie left BC as the school’s passing leader with 10,579 yards, and he remains a hero on campus; his Heisman is the centerpiece of the school’s new Hall of Fame. He was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the 11th round in 1985 but chose to play for the USFL’s New Jersey Generals, owned by Donald Trump.

He then joined the NFL, but his freewheeling style and short stature were a poor fit for its conservative schemes. He played five games for Chicago the next two seasons and 17 for New England from 1987-89.

Only in the CFL, with its wide-open game, did he truly find success, throwing for 41,355 yards and 270 touchdowns in eight seasons with British Columbia, Calgary and Toronto.

“His accomplishments up there are more than legendary,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday.

Even if you don’t like football you had to love Doug Flutie because he played the game like a kid playing street football; all joy and scrambling and trying to do the impossible. In these days with all of the pressure of big money contracts and media scrutiny and a rabid fan base that demands perfection or close to it from their local team’s players in order to fill and validate their own empty lives, Flutie always looked like he was actually having fun playing the game possibly because he wasn’t supposed to be out there because he was too small and his arm wasn’t strong enough or he threw off of the wrong foot on the run or whatever, so what the hell, let’s throw out the playbook and make it up as we go along. I don’t find football all that interesting, but Doug Flutie somehow made it something different and special when he was on the field. He made you watch because everything about him and what he did was unexpected. He made you smile while you watched.

I met Flutie once but I didn’t know it at the time. I had taken the lovely and talented Casey up to a field in La Jolla where she was working out with a private shooting coach. When we got to the field the San Diego Spirit, the local women’s professional team, was practicing on it and standing around the field, watching, was the usual crowd of pony-tailed soccer girls and their parents waiting for the practice to end so that they could get autographs. When the practice ended, and while the women from the Spirit patiently signed soccer balls and shinguards and other whatnot, Casey was on the field with her coach passing and working on making her shots ‘knuckle’ (much like a knuckle ball where the ball has no rotation and tends to bend or drop unexpectedly). A man in a ball cap walked up next to me and stood watching and then asked me, “Is that your daughter?” to which I replied “Yeah”. He said, “She’s pretty damn good.” and I thanked him…but I don’t ever remember looking at him. He watched for awhile and when his daughter joined him he said, “I’ll see you around.” Later one of the Spirit coaches came over to watch, and he said, “Did you know that was Doug Flutie?”

“No way.”


I’ve always wished I had looked at him and known that the man who wasn’t a whole lot bigger than me was the Doug Flutie who threw the miracle pass to Gerard Phelan to tear the heart out of the hated Miami Hurricanes. I would have liked to have told him, “You’re pretty damned good yourself.”

He really was.

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