With Doug Flutie retiring today, one of sport's most unique and longest-serving athletes is exiting the stage, and there will be memories.
My favourite was in Miami, at a playoff game in early 1999 that ended with Miami's Jimmy Johnson, such a classy guy, stomping on some Flutie Flakes in the Dolphins dressing room.
|HANS DERYK/TORONTO STAR|
|Doug Flutie: Escape artist.|
But first, the NFL has a policy where, with five minutes to go in the game, reporters are escorted down to the sidelines, from where at game's end they go down the tunnel to the interview area and locker rooms. (I always took it during my brief time covering the league; a year after this one, I'd get a ringside seat for the Music City Miracle, including peering over referee Phil Luckett's shoulder while he reviewed the replay.)
When we got down there, the Bills were driving for a game-tying score, and Flutie, flushed from the pocket, was suddenly running for his life -- and turned to come straight toward me, standing on the sideline beside the end of the Dolphins' bench area.
I instinctively moved over behind the mountainous Dolphin beside me, peering around him as if he was a shield. It's hard to communicate the level of intensity on an NFL field when you're that close -- the noise, which is all grunts and shouts and screams, about as primal as sports gets, and the speed of it, which is simply breathtaking, along with the size of the linemen. The overall level of violence and mayhem is frightening, thrilling -- and unforgettable.
Flutie somehow eluded two linemen to escape the pocket collapsing around him. A linebacker came up and tried to cut him off at the knees, but he turned his hips sideways and held up the ball slightly like a waiter going through a crowded restaurant, and the hit barely grazed him. He ran out of bounds a few feet away from me, two more Miami players diving for a final smack and one of them getting him but good. He flinched, landed hard with the guy on top of him -- he must've been outweighed by a good 60 pounds -- and bounced straight up and ran back to call the next play from the line. Time was running down. (The Bills would eventually lose in the final seconds on a Flutie fumble, their season ending at the goalline when Miami finally tagged him with the knockout punch and cued Johnson's moment of piling on.)
To me, none of it mattered. It was an ordinary play, but from that vantage point, it was an escape job for the ages: the most memorable three-yard gain I've ever seen. And only one guy in the world was capable of doing it.