Tuesday, November 23, 2010

November 23, 1984: Hail Flutie

MIAMI - The ball hung frozen in the Miami air. A mass of players waited in the end zone for it to come back to earth. The players were gathered at the goal line, not believing the ball would even get there. He was throwing the ball from the 37-yard-line, for God's sake, and it was into a 30 mph wind. There's no way, they were thinking, that the ball would get this far. Meanwhile, Gerard Phalen was in the middle of the end zone. He knew.


Flutie Flakes are either the best or the worst thing to happen to Doug Flutie. There's no in-between. For many people, especially people who weren't old enough to have watched the game betwen Boston College and Miami on November 23, 1984, Flutie Flakes have become his legacy. It's no surprise - the name rolls off the tongue, easy to remember. So is it a good thing that Flutie is largely remembered - at least by the younger generation - for a cereal that raised money for autism? Is it a good thing that he's finally remembered for something other than one single throw in 1984?


Flutie should have had a more memorable professional career, but he likely cost himself much of a chance by crossing the picket lines during the 1987 strike. Two years later, he was in Canada, becoming one of the most prolific passers in CFL history. He starred in exile for nearly a decade, winning three Grey Cups before coming back to the NFL in 1998. Still effective, but no longer a star, Flutie's second NFL tenure was nice, but didn't do much to make American football fans forget the throw he made in 1984.


The game was a classic in offensive force. Everybody knew the Hurricanes could score with anybody, but Boston College was keeping right up with them. It got to the point that in the fourth quarter, with Miami driving for yet another touchdown, Flutie went to the defensive coaches and implored them to let Miami score. They thought he was joking, but he wasn't; he knew they were going to score anyway, and he wanted to make sure he had enough time left to answer. The coaches didn't listen, and Flutie didn't get the ball back until there were 28 seconds left. The score was Miami 45, Boston College 41, and BC had 80 yards to go.

Three plays and 22 seconds later, the Eagles were at the Miami 48. Time for one last play. It was called 55 Flood Tip, but in reality, it was a Hail Mary. Appropriate for a Catholic school. Flutie took the snap and dropped back. Looking to buy more time, he dropped back further, stepping around a rusher and rolling to the right. With his receivers sufficiently far enough down field, he planted and fired, a frozen rope to the middle of the end zone.

And that's where Miami failed. Never believing Flutie would be able to throw it that far, the defenders had gathered by the goal line. They were there to knock down the throw, to not let BC try to tip the ball. Phalen was in the middle of the end zone, waiting for the aforementioned tip. Instead, the ball came straight to him, untouched, and he caught it as he went to the ground.

Flutie's legend was secured that day. He had beaten the defending champions on a miraculous play, and had done so in a nationally televised game on the day after Thanksgiving. He was a shoo-in for the Heisman Trophy later that year. In fact, the play had such lasting effects that Boston College received an influx of admission applications for the next several years, something school administrators called the Flutie Effect.

Flutie is a legend in Canada for his passing prowess, and is a well-known autism spokesperson because of his Flutie Flakes. But his legacy will always be the one pass he threw in Miami. For sports historians, Doug Flutie will always be 22 years old, and the ball will always hang frozen in the Miami air.

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