It’s finally Doug Flutie’s turn to be featured in the NFL Network’s outstanding biography series, A Football Life.
While some of these profiles perhaps are for completists only, or are to be savoured mainly by just yesteryear romantics, every football fan should make a point of seeing this one — especially CFL fans.
Ditto Buffalo Bills fans curious to see how the Music City Debacle is portrayed. That is, the inexplicable Flutie-benching/Rob-Johnson-ascension prior to the last-played playoff game in Bills history: the gutting loss to Tennessee in January 2000.
Doug Flutie: A Football Life debuts Friday night.
For more than 20 years, the 5-foot-9¾ playmaker-extraordinaire befuddled defences, vexed talent evaluators, won over coaches and teammates, shamed skeptics and endeared himself to fans of his teams at every level — in high school, at Boston College and all through his topsy-turvy pro career, which took him from the USFL (1985-86), to the NFL (1986-89), to the CFL for eight masterful years, then back down for eight final years in the NFL.
An accomplished speaker and broadcaster now in his own right, Flutie offers apt quotes and insight throughout the documentary, such as his base view of how simple his job really was: “You take your read and you throw it to the open guy.”
But Flutie also reveals how clichéd assessments of his play drove him crazy; that when he failed it was because he was a shrimp, but when he succeeded it was because he was some otherworldly football magician.
Magical? No, it was just a simple bootleg, he counters at one point.
In his first NFL go-round, talent choosers could not overlook Flutie’s vertical shortcoming.
“The NFL was so scared of me. They didn’t know what to think of me. OK, here you’ve won the Heisman, you’ve put up all these numbers, you’ve beat big-time teams (but) you’re too small to play.
“So publicly … they try to say all these positive things, and in the back of their minds they’re like, ‘Somebody else draft him.’”
With his NFL career going nowhere in 1990, Flutie made the courageous, smart decision to take his talents north.
If you think his years in Canada — with the B.C. Lions from 1990-91, Calgary Stampeders from 1992-95 and Toronto Argos from 1996-97 — rate only cursory treatment in this special, you’ll be happy to learn otherwise.
Several of Flutie’s CFL teammates are interviewed, including Dave Sapunjis, his brother Darren Flutie, Pinball Clemons and Paul Masotti — as are then Stamps owner Larry Ryckman and offensive coordinator John Hufnagel.
Amid many clips of his most stunning plays as a CFLer — and good gawd, those — we hear such plaudits as these from Ryckman:
“I truly believed he was the Wayne Gretzky of football.
“What Doug did in these games is probably the best football that has ever been played. I know that is a really bold thing to say, but Doug would do things that you don’t see anymore.”
Well, except sometimes we see it now in Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, truth be told.
A Football Life does not gloss over the financial fallout between Flutie and Ryckman.
“I was getting paid, like, a year late all the time,” Flutie said.
As eventual 10% owner of the Stamps, Flutie apparently wound up as the only player not getting paid during one cash-strapped season. And Flutie claims he never received a $700,000 personal-services payment.
Ryckman is asked on camera if he’s ever going to pay up.
“I don’t think I owe Doug Flutie anything,” he says, laughing.
After winning six CFL MVP awards and three Grey Cup titles in eight years, Flutie accepted an offer from the Bills in 1998 to return to the NFL. The team then signed Rob Johnson and anointed him the starter. But Johnson got banged up in the opener, and Flutie immediately began to conjure his, well, magic.
“Wow,” then Bills head coach Wade Phillips says in an interview. “He just did so many things that were unexpected, that were special.”
Flutie went to the Pro Bowl at the end of the season, earned comeback player-of-the-year honours and signed a new $22-million deal in Buffalo.
Flutie helped lock up a playoff berth for the Bills in 1999 with a week yet to play. Then trouble.
Before the Bills’ final, meaningless regular-season game against Indianapolis, coaches told Flutie to “rest up” for the playoffs while Johnson, the high-priced backup, quarterbacked. Johnson shone in a 31-6 win.
“And then a conversation took place between Wade Phillips and (owner) Ralph Wilson,” remembers A.J. Smith, then Bills director of pro personnel. “And out of that conversation, the head coach walked out and said, ‘We’re making a change.’”
Johnson would start.
“I love Wade Phillips,” Flutie says. “Wade was one of the most enjoyable head coaches I ever played for. It wasn’t Wade’s decision.”
Ownership meddling of the most destructive, ill-conceived kind.
Tennessee won what’s remembered in most places as the Music City Miracle, 22-16 — thanks to a highly questionable ‘lateral’ on a kickoff return in the waning seconds, which the Titans returned for the winning score.
“In hindsight,” Phillips says now, “Doug probably would have won the game, so that’s kind of the way we look at it.”
A year later Flutie took his talents to San Diego and mentored rookie Drew Brees, who is interviewed.
Flutie concluded his incredible playing career by attempting a dropkicked field goal in 2005 for the Patriots. One hadn’t been made in an NFL game since 1941.
Flutie, then age 43, booted it straight. But too short?
Huh. Not on your life.
Doug Flutie: A Football Life premieres Friday at 9 p.m. EDT on NFL Network, and re-airs three hours later, as well as Saturday at 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. EDT.
REX ON REVIS:
New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan was asked Tuesday what it feels like to see his former all-world cornerback, Darrelle Revis, now suiting up for the hated New England Patriots. “A little sick to my stomach,” Ryan said. The Jets visit the Pats on Thursday night.
NO MEASURABLE IMPACT:
Renie Anderson, the NFL’s senior VP of sponsorship and partnership marketing, told a marketing symposium Tuesday that the Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson domestic-violence controversies have had “no measurable impact” on the league’s business, according to Sports Business Journal. “We’ve gone partner to partner, speaking with them to understand their needs and concerns,” Anderson said.
Cowboys RB Joseph Randle was arrested Monday night for shoplifting and charges with a class B misdemeanour. The team might suspend him … 49ers LB Patrick Willis suffered a sprained toe Monday night in St. Louis, ProFootballTalk.com reported, and is “unlikely” to play at Denver on Sunday night … The Broncos placed LB Danny Travathan on IR/designated for return. He has a cracked bone above his left knee … The Bengals placed WR Marvin Jones on season-ending IR. A broken foot from August never healed enough and he’ll have surgery … Yahoo Sports says the Bengals recently worked out QB Terrelle Pryor.