Born in Manchester, Maryland, Doug Flutie moved with his family to Melbourne Beach, Florida, at the age of six when his father, Richard, accepted an engineering job in the aerospace industry. Flutie’s speed and ability to scramble and evade tackles, along with a strong arm, made him a success on the football field. When he was 13 years old, Flutie’s family returned to New England and settled in Natick, Massachusetts, where he played for the Natick High School team. Flutie was named an all-state athlete while in Natick but only received one scholarship offer to a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I-A program at Boston College due to questions surrounding his height — at five feet 10 inches (or 1.78 m) tall, Flutie is relatively small for a quarterback.
Hail Flutie/The Flutie Effect
On 23 November 1984, Flutie’s 10th-ranked Boston College Eagles faced the defending-champion Miami Hurricanes at the Orange Bowl in Miami. Down 45–41 with 28 seconds remaining, Flutie’s Eagles orchestrated a drive to the 48-yard line. On the final play, with six seconds left in the game, Flutie scrambled away from defenders, evaded a tackle and launched the ball 64 yards downfield against 30 mph winds. He landed the ball in the end zone in the hands of teammate Gerard Phelan and sealed the comeback victory for Boston College.
Flutie threw for 472 yards in the game and became the first college quarterback to ever pass the 10,000-yard mark in a career. He ended his college career later that year as the NCAA’s all-time passing leader with 10,579 yards.
Today, the iconic passing play is simply referred to as the “Hail Flutie.” Fox Sports named it one of the top 10 “unforgettable sports moments” in sports history, and the pass was ranked fifth on The Telegraph’s list of the top 10 “miracle moments in sport.”
Flutie’s heroics brought national attention to Boston College, and the school saw application numbers rise the following year. This phenomenon — now known as the “Flutie Effect” — links athletic achievement to increased interest in attending an academic institution.
In November 1985, Natick, Massachusetts, named a street “Flutie Pass” to honour its hometown hero.
Pro Football Debut
Despite winning the Heisman Trophy — awarded to the best player in collegiate football — in his senior year, Flutie’s stature once again left scouts and coaches questioning whether he could compete at the next level. At five feet 10 inches (or 1.78 m) tall, Flutie was significantly shorter than the average NFL quarterback, who stands just over six feet three inches (or 1.91 m) tall. In 1985, he joined the now-defunct United States Football League (USFL) as a member of the New Jersey Generals (a team owned by Donald Trump), where he became the highest-paid rookie in any sport. Three months later, he was selected in the 11th round of the NFL draft by the Los Angeles Rams. He played one season in the USFL, but the league folded in 1986.
Flutie’s draft rights were traded to the Chicago Bears, and he made his NFL debut with the Bears on 9 November 1986. On 13 October 1987, he was traded again, this time to the New England Patriots. With the NFL Players Association on strike, Flutie crossed the picket line for an opportunity to play — a decision he described as “agonizing.” After three seasons, he was released.
“I could tell I was going to be viewed as a backup in the NFL,” Flutie told Sports Illustrated, “and you only have so many years to play this game, and I wanted to play. So I figured I’d give the CFL a whirl.”
On 21 June 1990, Flutie signed with the BC Lions and made his CFL debut on 13 July. The 27-year-old struggled in his first season, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns. In 1991, though, Flutie emerged as the CFL’s top quarterback, leading the league in passing yards (6,619 — a CFL record) and touchdowns (38) and earning his first Most Outstanding Player award.
In 1992, Flutie signed with the Calgary Stampeders and led them to victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the 1992 Grey Cup, where he was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. After four seasons in Calgary, he signed with the Toronto Argonauts.
Flutie led Toronto to a franchise-record 15 wins in both the 1996 and 1997 seasons, earning two more Most Outstanding Player honours in the process. He also made his return to the Grey Cup and won back-to-back championships in his two seasons with the Argonauts. In 1996, an average of 3.9 million Canadians tuned into the CBC to watch as Flutie earned his second Grey Cup MVP award in a 43–37 shootout over the Edmonton Eskimos. It was known as the “Snow Bowl” for its frigid temperatures, 40 km/h winds and snow-covered field at Hamilton’s Ivor Wynne Stadium. He repeated the feat in the following year, edging out the Saskatchewan Roughriders 47–23 and winning his third MVP in three Grey Cup victories.
The following season, Flutie retired from the CFL with, arguably, the most illustrious career of any player to set foot on a CFL field. His 48 touchdown passes in 1994 are still a league record, as is his 306.3 average passing yards per game. In total, Flutie received six Most Outstanding Player awards, including four straight from 1991 to 1994.
In 2006, a panel of 60 past and present players voted Flutie number one on the list of the greatest CFL players of all time. His younger brother, Darren, a successful CFL wide receiver, was voted number 50. The following year, Flutie became the first non-Canadian named to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
On 24 July 2017, 20 years after his last season in Toronto, Flutie became the 24th player to be named an “All-Time Argo.”
Return to the NFL
In 1998, at the age of 35, Flutie returned to the NFL with the Buffalo Bills. In his first start, on 18 October, he led the Bills to victory over the undefeated Jacksonville Jaguars. Nine years after last appearing in the NFL, Flutie was named the league’s “Comeback Player of the Year.” He also made the Pro Bowl that year, becoming the shortest quarterback to appear in the NFL’s all-star game.
Flutie went on to play for the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots before retiring on 15 May 2006 at the age of 43. That summer, he nearly returned to play for the Argonauts, who were coached by former teammate Michael “Pinball” Clemons, but ultimately decided against it. Instead, he pursued a career in television broadcasting as a college football analyst.
Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism
In 1995, Flutie’s three-year-old son, Doug, Jr., was diagnosed with autism. Three years later, in 1998, Flutie and his wife, Laurie, established the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism to help raise money for families who can’t afford the equipment, educational tools and other resources to help raise their children with autism.
In an effort to raise awareness, Flutie Flakes, a breakfast cereal, was released, with all of the revenue going to the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism. Over three million boxes of Flutie Flakes were sold.
Flutie remains actively involved with the foundation, which hosts an annual 5K run and a golf tournament in Massachusetts.
Awards and Achievements
- Heisman Trophy (1984)
- CFL Most Outstanding Player (1991–94, 1996–97)
- CFL All-Star (1991–94, 1996–97)
- Grey Cup Champion (1992, 1996, 1997)
- Grey Cup Most Valuable Player (1992, 1996, 1997)
- Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (2007)
- College Football Hall of Fame (2007)
- Canadian Football Hall of Fame (2008)
- All-Time Argo (2017)