- The Washington Times - Friday, June 3, 2005

Doug Flutie won the Heisman Trophy for Boston College in 1984, but his diminutive body made NFL scouts skeptical. Jerry Rice played at lightly regarded Mississippi Valley State, but he was so gifted he was taken in the first round of the 1985 draft.

Twenty years later, quarterback Flutie and receiver Rice — born 10 days apart in October 1962 — are trying to coax one more season out of their bodies. And each is going home again, in a way.

Flutie, let go by San Diego this winter, is thrilled to be back in a New England uniform for the first time in 16 years.

“There’s a list of 5,000 reasons why I wanted to come to New England and No. 1 is being able to wake up in my own bed,” said Flutie, who’s slated to replace Jim Miller as a backup to Tom Brady after rejecting a feeler from the New York Giants.

Flutie had considered returning to the CFL, where he was the outstanding player six seasons from 1991 to 1997, and was planning to bring his brother, receiver Darren, out of retirement to join him.

“I never had more fun than when I played in Canada and I would love to play with my brother again,” Flutie said. “The [Hamilton] Tiger-Cats made us a very serious offer, [so] I had the luxury of bypassing other offers and waiting, hopefully, for the Patriots.”

Flutie, who played well in relief of Drew Brees against Kansas City last year, won’t say 2005 will be the end, noting he first contemplated retiring before going to the CFL at 28 and that he was ready to quit before returning to the NFL with Buffalo at 35 in 1998 after an eight-year absence.

“When the day comes that I can’t do some of the things that I want to be able to do [athletically], that’s going to be scary for me,” Flutie said. “[Right now], I feel like a little kid.

Rice, for so long the game’s most feared weapon, is content to be a backup in Denver to standout veteran Rod Smith and rising youngster Ashley Lelie, not even asking for his No. 80 because that belongs to Smith.

“For so many years, there was so much pressure on me,” said Rice, whose 1,549 catches, 23,546 total yards and 208 touchdowns are records. “I had to set a certain standard. I had blinders on. I couldn’t hear people chanting my name. I couldn’t see little kids in the stands. I was so focused on what I had to do. The last couple years, I’m not the focus of attention. The ball is not coming my way every down. I’m really enjoying the game and having fun.”

While Flutie is truly back home in his native Massachusetts, Rice didn’t get his wish of a farewell stint with San Francisco, where he starred for 16 years before spending the last four seasons with Oakland and Seattle. He settled for reuniting with Denver coach Mike Shanahan, his offensive coordinator with the 49ers from 1992 to 1994.

“The thing I like about Mike is that he’s going to be up front with you,” Rice said. “If he feels like I can’t make the cut then he’s going to have to make a decision. I feel like I can still contribute.”

While Rice caught just 30 passes last year, his 14.3 yards a catch was his highest since 1995.

Prepared Plank — Rookie coach Doug Plank has guided the Arena League’s Georgia Force to the National Conference championship game. The Arizona Rattlers’ defensive coordinator the past three years, Plank said Ohio State’s Woody Hayes taught him the importance of being organized. Plank said Chicago coach Mike Ditka showed him the importance of communicating with players while he learned the importance of teamwork from Bears defensive boss Buddy Ryan, who named the 46 defense for his safety’s jersey number.

No city slicker — Guard Logan Mankins bought his first suit after New England made him the surprising last pick of the first round of April’s draft. The Fresno State product drives a 1987 Ford pickup with more than 200,000 miles on it. Mankins grew up on a 10,000-acre ranch in California and planned to be a professional cow roper if football hadn’t intervened. He also loves to hunt wild pigs.


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