REGINA, Saskatchewan -- The news hit Doug Flutie like a blindside sack.
His right arm, the most valuable one in the Canadian Football League, the one that had carried him through four seasons most quarterbacks only dream about, was a wreck. His flexor tendon was torn to the point where it had separated from the elbow. Surgery would be required. His 1995 season, which up to that point was shaping up as the best of his career, was over.
More than two months ago, Flutie held a news conference to make the somber announcement. But, in retrospect, maybe the guy who already had pulled the Calgary Stampeders out of so many jams merely was plotting his most dramatic comeback.
Flutie is back, all right. That right arm, responsible for more than 30,000 passing yards in six CFL seasons, looks strong. The fast feet that have made him the league's most feared scrambler are as quick as ever. His cool swagger has returned.
And the Stallions have a major problem on their hands, as they prepare for tomorrow's Grey Cup at Taylor Field.
Looking back at where he came from this fall, Flutie is just thrilled to be here, to have his teammates depending on his heroics once again. It's a position that, while he was winning Most Outstanding Player awards from 1991 to '94, he admittedly may have taken for granted.
"I'm just thankful to be out on the field, throwing the ball, running around, having fun," said Flutie, 33. "When we held that press conference, I thought it was going to be a year and a half until I had the opportunity to get back to a Grey Cup. Now, all of a sudden, here we are a couple of months later, and I've got this opportunity. Now, I want to take full advantage of it."
This year has really been three seasons for Flutie -- before the injury, the rehabilitation and the comeback.
Just another chapter in the life of the guy known across America as the Heisman Trophy winner whose last-second Hail Mary pass led Boston College to a stunning upset of Miami in 1984. After spending a year in the defunct U.S. Football League with the New Jersey Generals, Flutie played for four years in the NFL. There, his competitiveness and intelligence were never questioned, but his 5-foot-10, 170-pound size proved inadequate when measured against the huge linemen around him.
Flutie's decision to go to the CFL in 1990 energized that league and set his career on a legendary path. During his first two years with British Columbia, he dazzled the league's defenses and began showing a flair for the dramatic. He set 23 team and CFL records and won the first of four straight Most Outstanding Player awards.
"He pulled out two or three games when it looked like there was no hope," said Baltimore linebacker O. J. Brigance, who played with Flutie at B.C. in 1991. "He's constantly been put in those situations since. There isn't anything he won't try to win a ballgame."
When he signed with Calgary in 1992, Flutie was entering his prime, had become a millionaire and was tabbed as the missing link to the Stampeders' hopes to win their first Grey Cup in 21 years. Flutie delivered. Calgary won the Cup.
His next two seasons were otherworldly, but in the end, frustrating. Over those two years, Flutie threw for 92 touchdowns and just fewer than 12,000 yards, leading Calgary to a 30-6 record. But each season ended with a loss in the divisional finals.
Flutie was off to the best start of his career last summer, and was slowed only by the persistent pain in his throwing arm, which he thought was tendinitis. Calgary bolted to a 7-0 start under Flutie, who was shredding defenses with consistency. Before he took himself out of a game in August, he had thrown for 2,700 yards and 16 touchdowns, rushing for five more.
Then came the surgery, in which the tendon was reattached to the elbow. The operation also produced encouraging news. The damage wasn't as bad as originally diagnosed. A fast recovery was expected. Flutie even had an outside chance at playing again in 1995.
Backup Jeff Garcia took over the offense with remarkable success, while Flutie began to rehabilitate the elbow. The local media scrutinized Flutie's every move, gauging his progress on a daily basis, speculating about his return.
Calgary coach Wally Buono knew Flutie would be back about a month ago, when he walked into the Stampeders' locker room after a practice.
"Doug threw a football to me from across the room. It had some velocity. He said, 'I'll be back.' I never had a doubt after that," Buono said. "That shows you what sometimes motivates a man. Everybody thinks it's money. Doug has his money. He could have gone home. What motivates Doug is being able to accomplish things most people can't."
What also motivates Flutie is answering the rare boos he hears. Flutie returned in the regular-season finale in Toronto to test the arm by running a few series. He looked fine. But in the playoff opener, a 30-13 victory over Hamilton, Flutie made horrendous decisions and threw four interceptions in the first half. The home crowd responded.
"That was tough on Doug," Calgary guard Bob Pandelidis said. "He's done so much for this league, this city and this team. But this business is all about what have you done for me lately."
Flutie returned last week and was brilliant in a 37-4 trouncing of rival Edmonton, throwing two touchdown passes and running for another. The Stampeders were headed to their second Grey Cup in four seasons under his wing.
Flutie would like nothing more than to add another title to his resume. But he said those two months away from the game got him to thinking about the mortality of football players, and the fleeting nature of so many careers. The time away made him appreciate the fact that he has other interests, such as broadcasting, that will occupy his time after he is done with the game.
"It makes you think about how much longer you want to play," Flutie said. "I'm fortunate to have other options. I like to play because I enjoy it. Those three series against Toronto reinforced that. The day I'm not enjoying it, I won't hesitate to walk away."