- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

The little, baby-faced quarterback sprinted out, buying time, and then flung the football an improbable 65 yards through the air. On and on the ball flew — interminably, it seemed, to those watching at Miami’s Orange Bowl and in a national television audience.

When the ball came down in the end zone, it was into the arms of Boston College receiver Gerard Phelan. Officially, it was a 48-yard touchdown pass giving BC’s Eagles a 47-45 victory over Miami’s Hurricanes. Unofficially, two instant legends were born on Nov.23, 1984.

The Pass.

Doug Flutie.

Two decades later, at 42, Flutie is still a football player for the San Diego Chargers near what we can only assume is the end of an improbable career that has seen him win the Heisman Trophy, star in the Canadian Football League and persevere in the NFL despite the conventional wisdom a successful quarterback must be tall and hefty enough to withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous fate and oversized defenders.

And yet the Pass remains, as Flutie himself writes in the foreword to “Heart Stoppers and Hail Marys” by Ted Mandell, “the signature moment of my career. … It’s the first thing most people think of when they hear the words ‘Doug Flutie.’”

And no wonder.

The next time Jimmy Johnson appears on TV, hair perfectly coifed and dimples twinkling, you should feel sorry for him. Despite subsequent triumphs in college and pro football, no other coach ever lost tougher back-to-back games.

J.J. was in his first season as Miami coach in 1984 after inheriting a national championship team from Howard Schnellenberger. The Hurricanes were 7-2 going into their next-to-last game against Maryland when disaster descended. Leading 31-0 at halftime, Miami succumbed to the greatest comeback in college football history as backup quarterback Frank Reich rallied the Terrapins for a 42-40 victory.

Then came Flutie.

The Miami-BC game, originally scheduled for Sept.29, was moved to the day after Thanksgiving when CBS paid Rutgers $80,000 to cancel a game with the Hurricanes so the intriguing specter of Flutie facing mighty Miami could attract a national audience. The Eagles were 7-2 coming in, their best season since 1940, but this appeared clearly to be a David-Goliath matchup — except this particular David had a football in his hand rather than a stone.

So back and forth the teams marched for three hours, with Flutie matching Miami quarterback and future NFL star Bernie Kosar toss for toss. For the game, Flutie would pass for 472 yards and Kosar for 447 despite steady rain. The teams were tied 31-31 at the end of the third quarter, but the fun was just starting. In the final period, the lead changed hands five times.

With BC clinging to a 41-38 edge near the finish, Kosar led Miami 89 yards to the Eagles’ 1 and called a timeout. This was a big mistake. When Melvin Bratton dived one yard on the next play to put the Hurricanes ahead 45-41, 28 seconds remained — more than enough time for Flutie Magic to happen.

After the kickoff, two completions for 30 yards and another overthrown pass, the clock read 0:06 with BC on the Miami 48. Said Eagles coach Jack Bicknell later: “At this point, I assumed we had lost.”

O, ye of little faith. Everyone in the relatively small crowd of 30,235 knew what was coming. BC called its Hail Mary pass “55 Flood Tip” — meaning every receiver went deep and waited for anything catchable, even a deflected ball.

Flutie took the snap, rolled right to avoid a rush by All-American defensive end Jerome Brown and then took his sweet time. With Miami mounting just a three-man rush and Brown already evaded, there was no reason to hurry the last shot. Finally, with a little hop and skip, Flutie let fly toward the mob of bodies massed near the end zone.

Miami’s defensive backs and several BC receivers jumped in unison, but the ball sailed over their heads. Somehow Phelan had sneaked behind them, a couple yards deep in the end zone. The receiver didn’t think Flutie could throw the ball that far, but as he recalled, “It wasn’t going to be a touchdown if I caught it at the 5-yard line.”

Miami safety Tolbert Bain didn’t think little Flutie could deliver such a deep ball either.

“I dived, but I couldn’t get there,” Bain said. “I was praying the ball would hit the ground.”

Prayer unanswered — because, after all, this was Flutie’s time. The ball hit Phelan right in the stomach, and he fell to the ground with a piece of college football history in his grasp.

Bedlam ensued on the field and sidelines, as well as in the stands and countless living rooms across America. BC coach Bicknell couldn’t see the catch and, he confessed, “I couldn’t believe it had happened until I saw our kids going nuts.”

Some of Miami’s rough and tough players were sobbing as they straggled off the field. Said offensive tackle Dave Heffernan: “You just heard a silence you never want to hear in your own stadium.”

Flutie presumably had no desire to rub it in, but he might have done so anyway when he said, “Actually, I didn’t throw the ball to Gerard — I threw it to an area of the field. I didn’t even know who had caught it until five minutes after the game.”

Though Flutie had been mentioned as a Heisman candidate and his exploits were well known to most football fans, he became a true media star after the Pass — especially after getting his picture on the cover of Sports Illustrated. BC finished the season ranked No.5 nationally and drubbed Houston 45-28 in the Cotton Bowl.

Unfortunately, Flutie’s incredible season did not convince skeptics a little man could make it big in the NFL. Drafted by the Los Angeles Rams as merely a developmental player, he signed instead with the USFL’s New Jersey Generals and played respectably in 1985. But after returning to the NFL in ‘86, he debarked for Canada following the 1989 season.

Up north, Flutie again became a star. In 1997, he sparked the Toronto Argonauts to a second straight Grey Cup title and led the league in passing as the wider field made his mobility an even bigger asset. After returning to the NFL in 1998, he started for several seasons in Buffalo and San Diego. But this season he has remained parked on the pine while the rejuvenated Drew Brees quarterbacked the surprising Chargers.

But who cares? It might have been a long time ago, but nothing will ever top the Pass.

“You know, it was a lucky play,” Flutie insisted years later. “It does take skill to have a shot at it, but so many things have to align.”

In November 1984, as a moon hovered over Miami, they did — ever so memorably.

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