Sunday, November 23, 2014

Doug Flutie's Impossible Dream of a Play

I will always remember this day in 1984, the day that Doug Flutie threw a desperation prayer into the sky, and it was caught for a game–winning touchdown.

I was working on the Arkansas Gazette sports copy desk. It was the day after Thanksgiving. We didn't have a TV in the newsroom in those days, but one of the staffers brought in a portable TV so we could follow the football games that are always televised during that four–day holiday. One of the games being shown 30 years ago today was between Boston College and Miami (Florida) in the Orange Bowl stadium.

I didn't get to see the dramatic finish. I was busy working on the next morning's paper, but I could hear what the announcers were saying, and I could hear what my colleagues in the newsroom were saying as the teams lined up to run the play. And, when the final play happened, and the unimaginable had occurred, I could tell that something remarkable had happened simply from the sounds I heard from the TV and the folks who had gathered around the TV to watch.

That doesn't mean, of course, that I wouldn't have liked to see it. Fact is, I have seen it — several times. I just didn't see it when it happened.

Now, the game would have been exciting enough even without the last–second heroics. Miami was the defending national champion, having beaten Nebraska in the Orange Bowl the previous January. Miami's quarterback, Bernie Kosar, set a school record for passing yardage. His teammate, Mel Bratton, ran for four touchdowns.

For his part, Flutie finished the day with 472 yards passing and four touchdown passes, making him the first quarterback to pass for 10,000 yards in his collegiate career. Ever.

But all that had gone before was forgotten after the final play of the game.

Boston College trailed, 45–41, with six seconds remaining, and BC had possession of the ball at Miami's 48. It seemed like an impossible task, and it became even more impossible as the final play unfolded. Flutie, who, at 5'9" was short by NFL standards, needed a touchdown. He scrambled to his right, managing to avoid a sack, but he had been driven back about 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

Now, this undersized quarterback who had already thrown 45 passes that day had to fling one more pass at least 63 yards into 30 mph winds and hope that someone would catch it.

I suppose, if Flutie had had the luxury of time to stop and contemplate the enormity of the task before him, he would have been sorely tempted to just give up. It was a thoroughly improbable, impossible dream of a play.

The Miami defenders obviously didn't think he could do it because they virtually ignored wide receiver Gerard Phelan, who raced toward the end zone. Flutie's pass to Phelan threaded the needle between two Miami defenders and was complete for the game–winning strike. There was no margin for error. Everything had to go just right.

Shortly thereafter, Flutie won the Heisman Trophy. I don't remember hearing his name mentioned in connection with the Heisman before "The Pass," as Flutie's "Hail Mary" came to be known.

But I heard it a lot after that.

His professional career never really lived up to his collegiate achievement 30 years ago today. He started out in the short–lived USFL, then bounced around from NFL team to NFL team, gravitating to the Canadian Football League for several years before ending his career in the NFL.

He never played in a Super Bowl, but he did win a couple of the CFL's Grey Cups.

In America, I suppose, he will always be remembered for "The Pass."

No comments: