By Rob Gill, Co-Producer
EDITOR’S NOTE: “DOUG FLUTIE: A Football Life” premieres Friday, October 17 at 9pm/ET on NFL Network.
Last May, the National Football League cognoscenti and “insiders” couldn’t stop gushing about an undersized, ad-libbing quarterback dynamo who had transformed the perception of his college program. The group-think among those whose opinions mattered ensured he’d become a 1st round pick. The only mystery was exactly how high he’d be selected. Ultimately, the Cleveland Browns chose Doug Flutie 2.0, Johnny Manziel, with the 22nd pick of the 2014 NFL Draft. They even gave him one of Flutie’s uncommon uniform numbers.
Now, week after week, Manziel spends his time precisely the same place The Original Doug Flutie often found himself during his NFL career: the bench. But that’s where the similarities between the two quarterbacks end, because while there was a seemingly endless reservoir of belief in Manziel’s prospects for NFL success in 2014 — and a near desperation on the part of the Browns to rationalize making him the starter — Flutie encountered only doubt. General Managers and coaches simply could not conceive of a 5’9¾” quarterback leading their teams to Super Bowl glory, regardless of his athleticism, creativity or college resume.
In the National Football League, there is no escaping the group-think. It followed Flutie through both acts of his NFL career (which bookended a dominant eight-year run in the Canadian Football League). In 1988, he led his hometown New England Patriots to a 6-3 record as a starter, but he was allowed to pass only 18 times per game. Patriots coach Raymond Berry benched Flutie for the season finale when New England needed a win to clinch a playoff spot. Eleven years later, Flutie led the Buffalo Bills to a 10-5 record but was benched for a meaningless season finale and, more mind-bogglingly, remained on the bench for the team’s Wild Card playoff game – a game Buffalo lost.
It’s tempting to imagine how Flutie would have been viewed, when he would have been drafted and how his career would have unfolded had he entered the NFL in 2014 instead of 1984. Flutie’s NFL coaches almost always focused on what he couldn’t do. Namely: be tall. In the 21st century NFL, the stigma attached to vertically challenged quarterbacks has diminished thanks in large part to the play of stars like Russell Wilson and Drew Brees, and because of them, the group-think has changed, too. But those players may have never broken through the glass ceiling of perception without having received a boost from the shoulders of Doug Flutie.
“DOUG FLUTIE: A Football Life” was produced by Rob Gill and Nick Mascolo, and premieres Friday 10/17/14 at 9pm/ET on NFL Network.