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Stature a hurdle for Flutie, who knows size of problem

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Doug Flutie has been overcoming the odds all his life.

Now he's got to overcome the officials in his storybook bid to lead the Buffalo Bills to the playoffs.

If not for the bad calls that cost the Bills a game against the Patriots and gave the Jets a win over Seattle, Buffalo would be tied with Miami for first place in the AFC East at 9-4, with a one-game lead over the 8-5 Jets and a two-game lead over the 7-6 Patriots.

Instead, the Bills are tied with the Patriots at 8-5, while the Jets and Dolphins, who play tonight, are tied for first at 9-4.

The Bills, who play Oakland today and the New York Jets on Saturday before closing against the New Orleans Saints, could clinch a playoff spot today if they win and Tennessee and Pittsburgh lose.

Flutie, though, said he doesn't think his success will help the next Doug Flutie.

"It won't change their thinking one bit because the whole mentality of the NFL is cover your butt," he said. "They have to be able to write down on paper their beliefs about an individual and stand behind him because they're putting their neck on the line and they'll never do that with a guy that's undersized."

Flutie said a woman, who had somehow gotten an NFL scouting report on him when he came out of Boston College, showed it to him at a card show.

The first line started out, "Extremely small." The Bills list him at 5-10, although that may be a bit generous.

"It went into all the superlatives after that. I'm thinking, if you have all these superlatives, then why is being too small an issue?" he said.

He also had trouble with NFL coaching in his first stint with the Bears and Patriots before going to the CFL.

"The longer I was there, and the more I got coached, my performance started to go downhill. I was starting to get coached on my footwork. I had to plant on my fifth step, get rid of the ball, and all of sudden I was 6 yards deep behind center and it did look like a wall of people in front of me.

"They wouldn't let me back out from center to see the whole field, things I had to do to be successful," he said.

In the CFL and now with the Bills, they let Flutie be Flutie.

"I've been successful at this game in whatever league I've been in and I have to do things the way I do them. But every time I got to a new coach, I have to explain to him, 'Don't get too upset when I drift in the pocket, OK? I know I'm going to put a little pressure on their tackles because I drift. But don't worry about it; I'm not going to get sacked because of it. I'll get the ball off on rhythm,' " he said.

Having Flutie in the playoffs would be a tonic for a league bogged down in officiating controversies.

For Flutie to do it by overcoming bad calls would be fitting.

Zebra talk

Ralph Wilson, Buffalo's owner, can almost laugh about it now.

A week after he issued his stinging public announcement that he didn't want any more "pompous lectures" from commissioner Paul Tagliabue about criticizing the officials, Wilson can tell jokes about the bad calls that cost his team the New England game.

Wilson, who often compares what's going on in the NFL these days to the Marx Brothers slapstick comedy, "A Night at the Opera," said, "This was Groucho Marx without the laughs."

But Wilson said he has a serious concern, and he worries about the sport losing credibility with the public.

"Something's got to be done," he said. "We've got to restore some confidence. People aren't going to forget this, either."

The league didn't help to build much confidence when it said on Monday that it would present a proposal to the owners to install replays for the playoffs and then found out it might not happen. League officials assumed that since Wilson and one or two others were willing to switch, they'd have enough votes to pass it.

They forgot that some teams oppose making changes during the season.

Although the competition committee will have a conference call this week, it's unlikely there will be 24 votes to approve the measure. They might not even bother to have a formal vote.

This means there's going to be a major debate next March on the question of whether to bring it back for next season. The problem is that many coaches don't like the coach's-challenge system the league is proposing.

Like father, like son

Most fathers relish a son's success.

But the 1972 Miami Dolphins are so obsessed with being the only team to post a perfect record that quarterback Bob Griese is among the Dolphins rooting against the Denver Broncos, even though his son, Brian, is a member of the Broncos.

Brian said: "When we were 8-0, it was like, 'Just lose a regular-season game, then win the rest of them, fine.' Now, it's like, 'Lose the next one, lose this one and then go on.' "

Bob Griese did concede that, if Brian were actually playing, it would be more difficult to root against the Broncos.

Matter of heritage

The Colts' heritage is now in Indianapolis, but that's not truly accepted around the league.

When the Colts brought their 10-0 franchise record against the Falcons into Atlanta last week, a veteran Atlanta columnist wrote, "These weren't the 'real' Colts. That isn't Unitas throwing to Orr or Berry. That's not Moore or Ameche carrying the ball. This is just a bunch of stand-ins from Indianapolis carrying on in the name and it's a heavy load.

"Sure, they have the horseshoes on their hats, but horseshoes don't make a Colt. Understand, most of those 10 were lost to the Colts of Baltimore. This was only the third time the Falcons have played the Indianapolis edition. These are the poor man's Colts, a shabby rendition of the great and glorious team that fled Baltimore in the dark of night."

But then the younger generation doesn't always go for in for glorifying the old Colts.

When the Colts came to Baltimore two weeks ago, Tony Siragusa told an Indianapolis reporter, "These old-timers are crazy. They've been talking about this game since I signed with the team [in 1997]. These fans are sick. They're nuts."

Shortchanging Browns

The Denver Broncos can set an NFL record today by recording their 19th straight win.

jTC The league doesn't count the 29-game unbeaten streak (27-0-2) the old Cleveland Browns posted in the old All America Football Conference from 1947 to 1949.

Former wide receiver Dante Lavelli is upset at the snub, but quarterback Otto Graham said, "We know how good we were."

Quick facts

Vinny Testaverde's 22-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio with the New York Jets is second best in NFL history to Steve DeBerg's 23-4 mark with the 1990 Kansas City Chiefs.

There have been seven 400-yard passing games this year compared with two last year.

The Green Bay Packers have beaten the Chicago Bears eight straight, tying the mark for longest streak in their 80-year series.

Quotable

"I said all along we were going to be on the cutting edge."

-- New Cleveland Browns president Carmen Policy on his $10,000 tampering fine for comments about Green Bay coach Mike Holmgren at a luncheon before he even signed a player.

Pub Date: 12/13/98

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