Doug Flutie Hail Mary Pass | The Miracle in Miami
Mel Allen wrote this Yankee Classic in November 1989 on the fifth anniversary of Doug Flutie’s football triumph for Boston College. November 23, 2009, is the 25th anniversary of that moment.
The father of Doug Flutie drives slowly through Natick, a town of 31,000 west of Boston. It is a summer night; the air conditioner hums softly. Now and then the radar detector beeps a warning, but Dick Flutie pays it little heed. His wife Joan sits in the back.
They are showing me landmarks in the life of their son, Doug Flutie — the most famous football player in New England history — so he drives as if these streets were pages from an album he could turn.
“That’s where Doug and Laurie were married,” Dick says in front of St. Patrick’s Church. LIFE magazine was there. “Natick’s royal couple,” I say. “Yes,” Dick says, “they were.” Four years have passed since the wedding, a new granddaughter has been born, but he still has trouble accepting that Doug has a life away from them, even though the life is lived but two miles away. “That’s been the hardest,” he says. “Not the football. Just Doug not being around as much.”
We ride in a 1985 Ford LTD Crown Victoria. It is maroon, the school color of Boston College, Doug’s alma mater. In the winter of that year, at the height of his fame, Doug made a television commercial for Ford; as payment he could select a car. He told his father to take his pick. “I was in a grocery store with Doug,” Dick says, “and I felt tears in my eyes. I pulled him over in an aisle, and I told him that for me not to have to worry about car payments … well, nobody had ever given me anything like that. Ever.” Bolted to the front bumper is a Boston College novelty plate, presumably in place forever. Lying on the back window is a New England Patriots banner that — should Doug be traded — can easily be removed.
Five years ago Doug Flutie threw a ball that traveled 65 yards through the rain in the twilight of the Orange Bowl, defying a wind that shook the palms outside the stadium and a clock that read zero. Some 30 million people watched on national television. The longest pass in football history, one writer said, because it traveled into myth. When he threw the ball, the score was 45-41 in favor of the University of Miami, the defending national champions. When the ball came down, Gerard Phelan, Doug’s roommate, was waiting two yards deep in the end zone. Later, in the bedlam of the Boston College locker room, a player said, “That wasn’t Gerard Phelan who caught the ball. God caught that ball.” “No,” replied a teammate, “God threw it.”
The land hungered for a hero. Here was Doug Flutie: clean living, handsome, polite, modest; a Rhodes Scholar candidate who played with the bravado of a fighter pilot. He said his parents were his best friends. He played touch football with his old neighborhood pals. And his story read as if scripted in Hollywood. Standing a shade under 5′ 10″ and only 165 pounds, he was too small for big-time college football. Though time and again he had rescued his Natick High team from certain defeat, the Boston College coach had rejected him. Then the coach resigned. A new coach, Jack Bicknell, arrived from Maine. Dick Flutie phoned him . “Take another look at Doug,” he urged. “Look at the films.” There was one scholarship left to offer, and his son received it. When Bicknell came to the house, Dick told him, “You don’t know what you have just signed. You just don’t know.”
Doug became what the New York Times called “a cultural icon.” Stores sold out of football shirts bearing number 22. A week after the “miracle in Miami” he won the Heisman Trophy, awarded to college football’s best player, and soon after helped Boston College win the Cotton Bowl. A television producer toured New York with him and said in wonder, “It was like being with Sinatra.” One day former president Richard Nixon was walking when a young woman wearing a Boston College sweatshirt jogged by. “Ah,” he reportedly murmured, “Doug Flutie.”
For years Dick Flutie had been Doug’s coach, his cheerleader, his historian; he roamed the playing fields snapping photos of his three boys, athletes all, and sold them to the local papers for $5 a shot. A computer engineer, he arranged work schedules so he could attend practices. Once Doug’s high school baseball coach told him not to come to practices anymore. The two men have not spoken since. At Boston College he obtained a photographer’s sideline pass. At times during games he could almost reach out and touch his son.