Books

Challenging the sea

D’ARCY JENISH November 16 1998
Books

Challenging the sea

D’ARCY JENISH November 16 1998

The Flutie phenomenon

Doug Flutie has developed a useful collection of smiles. Fie honed his toothy, all-Americanhero dazzler during a highlight-reel university career with the Boston College Eagles. Fie added the championship beam by leading the Calgary Stampeders (once) and Toronto Argonauts (twice) to Grey Cup victories during eight seasons in the Canadian Football League. And he perfected a modest, aw-shucks

wrinkle in the corners of his mouth for the six occasions when he was named the CFL’s most valuable player. Now, as the starting quarterback for the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills, Flutie is adding another to his collection. It’s an l-told-youso grin, and it looks good on him. “I felt that, skills-wise, I could play this game,” the 36-year-old says, adding: “But I never really got a chance.” That was then. But Flutie, who was run out of the size-matters NFL in 1989, has become the feel-good story of 1998. The hottest cereal on western New York supermarket shelves is Flutie Flakes. To hear Americans tell it, the five-foot, nineinch, 176-lb. quarterback came out of “nowhere”—presumably a euphemism for Canada—to breathe life into the sagging Bills. One network

game analyst blithely stated that Flutie had been out of professional football since being discarded by the New England Patriots nine years ago. A player his size, the thinking then went, could not see around all those 300-lb. linemen. Flutie came north, signing first with the B.C. Lions in 1990, and found a three-down game perfectly suited to his creative scrambling. He compiled remarkable numbers—in addition to the Grey Cups

and awards, he threw for 41,355 yards and 270 touchdowns, and ran for 66 more scores. But he jumped at the Bills' offer last winter even though he was designated as a backup to high-priced Rob Johnson (his contract guarantees only $375,000, but with bonuses could rise to as much as $4.6 million; he earned $1 million last season in Toronto).

Buffalo’s players were wary at first, and some fans and radio hotliners were scathing in their criticism of Bills’ general manager John Butler for signing the CFL star. But the quarterback believed his skill could make up for his size, and, since Johnson was sidelined with a rib injury last month, Flutie has won over the fans with an exciting, thinking-on-the-run style, dashing away from potential tacklers and making plays that less mobile quarterbacks cannot. Going into last weekend's action, Buffalo had won four straight games with Flutie at the helm after beginning the season with one victory and

three losses under Johnson, and Flutie was the conference’s top-rated passer. “He’s little, but his heart is big,” says the Bills’ star defensive lineman, Bruce Smith. “This team believes in him.”

Besieged by attention last week, Flutie chided the suddenly enthralled U.S. football reporters who marvelled at how he had improved. “What I’m doing now,” he said flatly, “I did in Canada.” That brings smiles to CFL fans, who have long believed in the quality and excitement of their brand of football. In that, the Canadian game is like Flutie himself— vindicated after years of being regarded with disdain. That explains why, in CFL parks as well as in Buffalo, there are more and more l-toldyou-so grins.

J.D.