Wed, Nov 12, 2003 - Page 20 News List

It's still not time for Doug Flutie to play his last tune


It has come to this: age, as Shakespeare might have put it, cannot wither Doug Flutie.

On Sunday, two weeks after he turned 41, Flutie flew around a football field -- passing, running, directing the proceedings -- as though he were 20. OK, maybe not 20.

"I feel as good as I did when I was 30, that's for sure," he said after he led the San Diego Chargers to a 42-28 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

At an age when most football players -- make that "ex" football players -- are home popping anti-inflammatories for ancient injuries and swigging beer to expand an ample midsection, Flutie started in place of Drew Brees, who is a mere 24.

Flutie did nothing more than connect on 21 of 29 passes, throw for 248 yards and two touchdowns, run for two more touchdowns and make men watching the game on television in nursing homes rap their canes on the floor with excitement.

Other fans share that ardor. "There's something romantic about an old guy being able to play a young man's game," said Marc Bernstein, an attorney and proprietor of Cafi Indulge on Second Avenue in Manhattan. Bernstein is hardly ready for a retirement home, but, like many of us, somewhat past his dewy-eyed youth. And he marveled at Flutie's performance. Why not? Flutie sprinted like Jesse Owens, threw like Willie Mays, commanded the team like George Patton and did it all in the guise of Methuselah.

It was Flutie's first start in two years, and adds to a remarkable pro legend, which began when he was considered too small -- he's 5 feet 10 inches -- to play in the NFL. In his second pro season, when he was a part-time player with the Chicago Bears, he was disparaged by many, including the Bears' starting quarterback then, Jim McMahon, who called Flutie "America's midget."

Obstacles for Flutie, in his 19th pro football season, are, however, nothing more than something to be scaled. Ageism was simply another one of them. He just shuts up and performs -- and prevails.

At his stage, you know what you can or cannot do. In the arena, there is no way to fool yourself or anyone else.

At home, you may apply the law of geriatrics: "The older you get, the faster you could run as a boy." Or, as the voice-over on the old Lone Ranger programs used to say, "Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear." The yesteryear, that is, that we might only be conjuring up in our daydreams, like castles in the sky.

It doesn't hold, however, on the athletic field. If, like Flutie, you can keep yourself in condition and your wits about you -- and by the grace of a coach who either has confidence in you or, like the Chargers' Marty Schottenheimer, had little choice since the kid quarterback was laying an egg -- then you have a shot at success. Never mind the ton or so of humankind galumphing after you.

Coming out of Boston College, Flutie was selected in the 11th round of the 1985 draft by the Los Angeles Rams, the 285th selection overall, and this after having just won the Heisman Trophy. And he never played for the Rams.

He wound up with New Jersey in the US Football League, and in 1986 signed with the Chicago Bears, although he played little in a season and a half.

He was traded to New England in the NFL, was released by them in 1989, then went to the Canadian Football League, playing for British Columbia and Calgary and Toronto, and, operating as though "no" had no application to him, became a star, winning the most valuable player award six times in eight years.

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