Grey Cup - 1992 - Skydome -
Calgary 24 - Winnipeg 10
Magic Flutie - Paul Zimmerman - Sports Illustrated -
Okay, so it was in a different country, with different rules, and the
prize was an oversized cup guarded by two troopers in the scarlet livery
of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. But the night, and the Grey Cup,
belonged to Doug Flutie, who has put his personal stamp on the Canadian
Football League as surely as he put it on college football during his
glorious days at Boston College, almost a decade ago.
The NFL spent four years trying to take the magic away from him, trying
to tell us it was a mirage, all those wonders he had worked at Boston
College: the Heisman; the yardage—more yards than anyone had ever thrown
for in college—much of it gathered in wild and unpredictable ways; the
way he bedeviled Penn State before 85,000, Miami with a Hail Mary pass,
and Houston in the Cotton Bowl. He was 5'9", just a little guy who
couldn't cut it, they said. Jim McMahon called him " America's midget"
when they were teammates with the Chicago Bears, which was at the midway
point in Flutie's NFL career. The Rams, the Bears, the Patriots and out.
Come see us when you're 6'3".
Sunday night's performance in the Toronto SkyDome, however, was Boston
College reincarnated as he quarterbacked the Calgary Stampeders to a
24-10 victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Right away you knew this
was it for him—his night, his answer to all the folks who had given up
First series, first play: Flutie rolls left, fires on the run and finds
former San Francisco 49er Derrick Crawford for 39 yards. Second series:
a 41-yard bomb to Crawford. Third series: another scramble left and a
deep sideline strike for 28 yards to former Miami Hurricane Pee Wee
Smith; and then, four plays later, retreating under a full blitz and
throwing off his back foot, completing a 35-yard touchdown pass to Dave
Sapunjis, who played at the University of Western Ontario.
By the end of the first quarter the Stampeders were up 11-0, and Flutie
had thrown for 167 yards. By halftime the score was 17-0, and he had 297
yards. Sam Etcheverry's 37-year-old Grey Cup record of 508 passing yards
was in big trouble. In a game Flutie was born for—12 men on a side,
no-back sets with as many as six receivers going out in patterns,
blitzers pouring in like crazy, a chessboard gone mad—he was the master.
He was a moving, darting exclamation point, scrambling to buy time,
throwing the ball sidearm, underarm, once almost backhanded on a
four-yard completion to Sapunjis.
By early in the fourth quarter, with Calgary ahead 24-0, he had thrown
his second TD pass and surpassed the 400-yard mark, and the game was
virtually over. The only question was whether he would break the record.
He ended up with 480 yards, on 33 completions in 49 attempts. He would
have gotten the record if a fourth-quarter 59-yard TD pass hadn't been
called back because of an ineligible man downfield. "Yeah, I guess we
were keeping track of the yards—loosely," said Flutie after the game,
"but it didn't really matter."
Yards? He has had plenty of them. More than 15,000 in his three seasons
in Canada, a league-record 6,619 in 1991. He was voted the CFL's Most
Outstanding Player that season and again this year, and naturally he was
the MVP of Sunday night's Grey Cup. He has done it all up North, but
that leaves a nagging question: Would he, when the four-year, $4 million
contract he signed with the Stampeders expires after the 1995 season,
consider a return to the NFL at age 33?
"I know what some people say, that I'm doing it in a second-best
league," said Flutie the day before the game. "Well, this game just
means so much to me. A championship is a championship, I don't care what
league it's in. This is my Super Bowl.
"I think I've gotten the NFL out of my system. I played four years; I
had some success, some hard times. I figure you have X number of years
to play this game. Why should I spend them sitting on the bench? I want
to have things to look back on.
"Going back to some closed-offense, ball-control team would be very
boring. One year with New England I was averaging 15 throws a game at
the end of the season. I was handing the ball off and watching the game.
There was no such thing as mental fatigue."
But what if, say, a
run-and-shoot team became interested? John Hufnagel, the former Penn
State quarterback who coaches the Calgary offense, says Flutie's best
attribute is his ability to think on the go, to make the quick reads and
adjustments. Wouldn't he be perfect for the run-and-shoot?
"Well, maybe," Flutie said, "but it would have to be a run-and-shoot
team that needed a quarterback. I don't want to sit on the bench again.
Besides, I like it up here in Calgary, the day-to-day life for me and
Laurie and our two kids. I'm feeling good about it. We never were
Still, the hokeyness is inescapable at times. "My first season ,
when I was with British Columbia," Flutie said, "we played a road game
in Hamilton. A 29,000-seat stadium, with about 12,000 people in the
stands. It looked like the old Alumni Field at BC. I just shook my head.
What the heck am I doing here?"
Last March the Stampeders' 37-year-old owner, Larry Ryckman, put
together a deal for Flutie, who had played out his option at British
Columbia. THE MAGIC FLUTIE read the headline in The Calgary Sun. Right
alongside it, on top of the lead sports page, was an ad for County Line
country bar, which listed among its features "Porky's, hooters, beer
store, liquor store, bring this ad in and receive a single room at
"Our goal," said Ryckman when he signed Flutie, "is to fill the stands
[capacity at McMahon Stadium is 38,200] and to win the Grey Cup." One
out of two ain't bad. The stands were filled just once this season—on
Labor Day. On Oct. 4, when the Stampeders beat Ottawa and Flutie broke
the team's 25-year-old record for single-season passing yardage, the
smallest crowd of the year, 20,207, was on hand for the game.
The city of Toronto was underwhelmed by the 1992 Grey Cup, and more than
6,000 tickets went unsold. Before the game you could buy seats at cost,
below cost or "whatever you want to give me," as one poor chap who was
holding up a pair said. The Winnipeg Free Press did a survey the week of
the game, asking 50 Toronto businessmen if they knew which teams were
playing. Twenty-nine didn't know. Even a great old Calgary tradition—the
horse in the hotel lobby—ended when the Royal York barred its doors to
some Stampeder fans and their mounts. "Our carpet is brand-new," said
the manager, Johann Isopp.
Financial worries have the CFL brass considering such daffy ideas as
expanding to San Antonio, Sacramento or Albuquerque. Picture it.
Albuquerque versus San Antonio, as all Canada holds its breath. But
maybe, just maybe, if Flutie keeps cranking out those 400-yard games, he
can be the marquee player who helps the league right itself.