Sports Watch

The CFL gains from Flutie's frustrations

rent Frayne October 14 1996
Sports Watch

The CFL gains from Flutie's frustrations

rent Frayne October 14 1996

The CFL gains from Flutie's frustrations

Sports Watch

rent Frayne

From the newsstands, Dan Marino, the Miami Dolphins quarterback, drinks us in, the blue eyes saucers, the teeth as white as, well, Styrofoam cups. The magazine cover salutes him: Dan Marino, The Best Quarterback You’ll Ever See. The magazine is GQ, glossy paper for a shiny superlative.

OK, if you dote on the National Football League, this stud’s for you. But if it’s excitement you like and have a mind of your own, Dan Marino is not the best quarterback you’ll ever see. The man to lift you is Doug Flutie, not big enough for the cautious NFL, born instead for wide-open football on man-sized fields.

In the eyes of some, the NFL is a TV program, exploding lights and throbbing music and dudes upstairs in a booth where silence is the enemy. On the field, quarterbacks are prisoners guarded by pot-bellied linemen of 300 lb. and up. The NFL is also rich in hype and glitz and big bucks, and so it’s a cherished goal for many a red-blooded American boy.

Such as Doug Flutie. This is not the time of year when Flutie’s mind dwells on what might have been. That comes later when the Canadian season is over. Right now Flutie is involved with the Toronto Argonauts, a team with the best won-loss record in the CFL. And going into last weekend’s game against Winnipeg, Flutie led all quarterbacks with 22 touchdown passes, including a moon shot of 97 yards to wide receiver Paul Masotti when the Argos recently nipped the west division leaders, the Calgary Stampeders, by 23-22.

The game was Flutie’s first as an Argonaut against the Stamps, the team he led to the Grey Cup game in 1992 and 1995. In Calgary, he won three of his four consecutive mostoutstanding-player awards, starting in 1991 with the B.C. Lions. Including the Calgary game, Flutie had scored nine touchdowns on the ground, one less than three players then tied for the league lead.

The Argos head coach is Don Matthews, who has been a Grey Cup thinker 10 times in his 17 years in the CFL, a vantage point from which he anoints his quarterback: “Doug Flutie is the best CFL player I’ve ever been around. Every day, I go home thankful that he’s on our side.”

Flutie can throw a ball through a wall and running with it too makes him a very exciting player, more exciting (it says here) than every NFL quarterback except the 49ers’ Steve Young, who also takes off occasionally for other than life-preserving purposes. Why don’t NFL quarterbacks run? “Smaller field, bigger people,” supplies Bob Ackles, the former B.C. Lions ball boy, now director of football operations for the Dolphins in Miami. “The defensive ends and outside linebackers down here are big, fast guys. With less room, a scrambling quarterback is in peril. Doug’s size is a detriment.” Flutie is five feet, 10 inches and weighs 172 lb. Dan Marino, cur-

If it’s excitement you like, Dan Marino is not the best quarterback you’ll ever see.

The man to lift you is Doug Flutie.

rently sidelined with a slight fracture in his right ankle, is six feet, four inches and weighs 224. Stocky little Steve Young (as he clearly appears to be, dashing past or buried under hulking defenders on Sunday TV) is six-two and 205 lb. Still, the NFL philosophy of stationary quarterbacks as expressed by Bob Ackles is very frustrating for Flutie, who can recite injustices culled from his own relatively brief life in the NFL—five games and one playoff with the Chicago Bears in 1986 and 16 games in three seasons with the New England Patriots.

“I ran the ball more with New England than I did with the Bears, but we didn’t spread things out the way we do here,” Flutie remembers. “Raymond Berry, the head coach, put in an offence for me, a set with no backs, everybody spread out, me in the shotgun, like the stuff we do here. We practised it five minutes a day and we had about six, seven plays off of it. We got in one ball game where we were going against the wind and we got backed up in our own end. Our quarterback got sacked, it was like second and a mile, and Berry put me in. I ran a quarterback trap for about a 12-yard gain, and then a rollout thing, and then I threw the ball for a first down.”

He smiles wanly. “Once we got the first down, I came out and we never ran it again.” Flutie has a theory on why the people who run NFL teams avoid small guys as quarterbacks.

“What happens is, they’re not gonna make you their franchise quarterback and throw two million bucks a year into a guy they’re not sure, because of the size thing, can justify it. That’s people covering their own butts. They say, ‘Hey, you’re good, but if I spend this kind of money on you and things don’t work out, then I get fired.’ But if they spend the money on a guy six-four, 210, can throw the ball, and that doesn’t work out, well, then they say, That’s not my fault, I brought him in, he’s got talent but he just didn’t get it done and that’s his fault.’ So it’s everybody covering their own tail.”

Flutie turns 34 later this month. When he was a kid of 7, he was a wide receiver for his older brother Bill. At 9, he played tackle at school. By 12, he was the quarterback. “I always wanted to be the guy in control, the guy running the show,” he says. So, for a quarter of a century, Flutie has been in a huddle telling guys what to do. Does it bother him that he missed the NFL dream?

“What bothers me now is looking back, or looking at the guys who play in the league now, and I shake my head at some of the guys making $2 million a year being a backup somewhere that I know for a fact I can outplay. And that frustrates me.

“But in general I get so wrapped up in this league and what I have goin’ on here that I don’t have time to worry about that stuff. The only time I think about it is after the season when I go back to Boston, say in December, watch a few games, watch a few playoffs, and that’s when I start thinkin’ about it again.”