When Doug Flutie enters a room, he brings a certain natural mystique. An engaging smile, intelligence and also clarity of expression. Eloquence personified. Humility. An extroverted personality who projects without being offensive. All the put-upon so-called "short men" in America look upon him with respect and admiration. Athletes a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier do, too.
What Flutie achieved with the Buffalo Bills, as a player who spent eight years in the Canadian Football League before getting a chance at redemption in a comeback season in the NFL, surpasses what has ever done before.
You might be able to hide Flutie under a basket but not his ability. At 5 feet 9, give or take an inch, he is one of the most exciting things to ever happen to pro football, a throwback to little Davey O'Brien and bantam Buddy Young.
And, at age 36, he can still light up a scoreboard in the blink of an eye, bring an audience to its feet and cause grown men chasing after him to curse, whimper and become wiped out with frustration.
For now, let's look a long way back to the night of Nov. 23, 1984. Scout Fred Schubach was doing his homework in a Miami hotel room, putting together evaluations of all the draftable players he had viewed that afternoon in an almost heart-stopping game that saw Boston College upset Miami, 47-45, as time expired.
He had been associated with the Colts as equipment manager, scout and finally personnel director, until they defected to Indianapolis. The Buffalo Bills hired him, and that's where Schubach would submit his scouting report. He dated it 11-23-84 and expressed it to the Bills' office.
We're looking at a copy of the original, which offers an insight into how important the role of a scout can be, especially if he's providing sound information.
As to Schubach's unedited comments, which we have before us, here's what he said about Flutie, quarterback of Boston College: "Great, small, athletic. Outstanding foot quickness. Agile. Quick to set up. Bouncy and always moving. A wrist thrower. Good arm strength. A quick arm. Quick release. Throws side-arm or 3/4 or from any position. Good feel for rushers or finding lanes to throw through. Good timing. Good touch. Good accuracy long and short. Can throw all the passes.
"Can zip it to the sideline. Can arm the ball. A natural. Can pump and hold and then pull a quick trigger. Great poise. Outstanding scrambler. Great improvising on the move. Always seems to be able to bide time. Great football instincts. Outstanding mental toughness. Smart. A leader on the field. Sometimes tries to carry the team by himself and will force it or make a foolish throw. One of the best I've seen but he is still 5-foot-9."
So the size of the man, not the ability he brought with him, caused observers to be skeptical. Some scouts wrote him off completely; Schubach didn't. The Bills already had a promising quarterback, Jim Kelly, then completing his second season, so another youngster at the position was far from a priority. Their 1985 draft, when they passed on Flutie, was a good one. It included defensive end Bruce Smith, quarterback Frank Reich and receiver Andre Reed.
It remained for Flutie to wait until he was the 285th player taken, in the second-to-last round, by the Los Angeles Rams. But he signed with the New Jersey Generals of the U.S. Football League.
The Rams had looked at him on their developmental squad but traded him to the Bears, who kept him two years before dispatching him to the New England Patriots, where he remained for parts of three seasons.
By 1990, six years after his last college game, he not only had to find another team but another league in another country.
Over the eight years, he went to the British Columbia Lions, the Calgary Stampeders and the Toronto Argonauts. He was voted the CFL's most valuable player an unprecedented six times, led the league in passing five occasions and helped his team to three Grey Cup championships.
Back to more of Schubach's analysis on Flutie:
"Great competitor. Has taken many tough hits. Will play hurt. Loves football. An aggressive take-charge guy who can carry the team on his own. Mentally tough. A daring player. Great leadership. Smart in school. Smart on the field. Great instincts. Great poise. Great reactions and thinking on the move. Doesn't panic. Tough although not a big kid. He has good arm strength and can unload quickly and accurately from any position.
"All the publicity has not gone to his head. Unassuming. Never complains. Hard worker on field and in school. Non-drinker. Same girlfriend since high school. A leader. The best of character. Starter since the middle of frosh year."
As to weak points expressed on the scouting questionnaire, Schubach wrote only three words -- "None but size" -- yet lack of stature too often becomes a dooming critique. That has always been a negative. He has gone about proving the critics wrong, those that figure quarterbacks under 6 feet have no chance in the pro game.
Seeing Flutie roll out, avoid the pressure and skip the light fantastic for long yardage is spectacular yet not uncommon when he plays.
He asserted himself with the Bills as soon as the opportunity developed. The quality of the Schubach draft report of 15 years ago has been demonstrated by time. A man who knew a genuine prospect when he saw one, even if he realized the height of the player was going to be a minus, made an excellent professional evaluation.
Doug Flutie, who was born in Manchester, Md., lived in Baltimore and grew up in Natick, Mass., proved an army of dissenters were wrong excluding Schubach. Flutie had to go from America to Canada and back again seeking only one thing: a mere chance to play.
Pub Date: 1/10/99