“Flutes” and Me

Russell Baker claims we should never let a “slavish adherence to truth ruin a good story,” but I want you to know this is a true story.

My brother-in-law, John, holds a special, somewhat elevated status in our extended family hierarchy for two important reasons. First, he is a medical professional, and as a result, he is respectfully referred to as the “real doctor” – as opposed to another, somewhat less elevated family member who is known, affectionately I am sure, as the “phony doctor.” (I often tell folks that I, too, receive phone calls at 2 am, when people are desperately trying to deal with the dangers of a dangling participle. (“Don’t touch that comma; I’ll be right over!”) But so far, at least, this line of reasoning hasn’t affected my social standing.

The other, much more important reason for John’s prominence, is his claim that, during his time at Boston College, he once played a game of “Monopoly” with the then unknown freshman, Doug Flutie. Since there are no pictures of this event, however, I am compelled to give John only partial credit for this claim. And having an endless supply of “Flutie Flakes” in his cupboard can still not substantiate his allegedly  “going Boardwalk” with Flutie.

(A quick aside: The last time I went to a musical with some friends, we saw “Mama Mia” – which probably says a lot more about the joys of mid-life than I care to consider. During the intermission, a chum — who is even less theatrically sophisticated than I—foolishly told his wife that he was not a fan of Abba’s. .His wife’s immediate retort was, “There are only 2 kinds of people: those who love Abba, and those who simply pretend they don’t love Abba.”)

I feel that way about Doug Flutie, who retired from football after 24 years of proving the critics wrong. You must either love Doug Flutie or simply pretend you don’t pull for him because, deep down, nobody has played a better David to the Goliaths of the USFL, CFL, or NFL than Doug Flutie.

Forgive me for this one, but I just have to tell you my own Doug Flutie story.

Over two decades ago, I was a graduate student at Boston College, which by the way, is not in Boston and is not a college. But for some reason, my suggestion to rename it  “Just Outside of Boston University” has not received much support to date. I remain optimistic. But I digress.

In between classes one afternoon, I wandered over to the athletic complex to play basketball. For some strange reason, perhaps it was destiny, I was the only person in the entire complex until 8 of the largest human beings I have ever seen, walked in from the weight room, along with one significantly smaller student.

It turns out, that this was most of the offensive unit from Boston College’s then  #4 ranked in the nation football team.  Because there were 9 of them, they waited around for a while, in the hope that at least someone a bit more athletic might appear. When he or she didn’t, they reluctantly invited me to join them for a game.

When they finally asked, I replied, “Let-me-think-about-it-YES!” before spending the next hour running up and down the hardwood with my new best friend, Doug Flutie.

I’d like to tell you that I fit right in. That Doug called my play. That we did a lot of high-low, give and go, take it to the rim and” show me the love” kind of thing together. I wish I could tell you that I vividly recall my new best friend’s saying, “If we want to win this game, we have to put the ball in Power’s hands, and then clear out, so that he can operate.”

But I can’t. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure if I even touched the ball that entire afternoon. But that was ok. I was happy to just to run baseline to baseline with my long lost buddy, Doug.

28 years later, I have 3 memories from that somewhat sacred afternoon.

First, Doug had the hairiest hands I had ever seen. I think he must have had to get those paws shaved for him to grip a football. He was a complete bear, even at 5 foot 8.

Second, Doug, and his brother Darren who also showed up later that afternoon, were probably the two best basketball players I’ve ever played with, not counting Graham Clarke or Harry Jarvis. (Sorry, just a plug for my JV team.)

And third, I was struck by the fact that when the other guys addressed my new-found best friend, they’d  yell,  “Flutes.” I confess that I tried to follow their example with this, but it wouldn’t work. I, too, wanted to assume familiarity, but when I tried to call out, “Flutes,” the proper noun caught in my throat. It just didn’t feel right.

As I drifted up and down the court, I found myself wondering, “Did Achilles’ friends ever call out, “Hey, ‘Ack’, I’m open!” or “’A-dog’ hit me!” when they were playing  “Rockball” or “Attack the Goat”  or whatever it was they did in between graduate school classes?

Today at UCC we talk a bit about imagination, innovation, passion, excellence, and compassion. I think Doug Flutie embodies all of these qualities. You may know, for example, that Doug started a foundation to help those dealing with autism, a condition affecting his own son. He and his family are trying to make a difference far beyond the gridiron.

It’s important for us to remember Flutie’s career, because we all hear, from time to time: “You’re not good in enough in Chemistry, to become a medical doctor.” Or “Your voice isn’t strong enough for you to be a lead in the play.” Or “You don’t skate well enough for the first line.” I hope that, when you do hear anything like this, you’ll remember a 5 foot 8 kid with hairy hands, who for over two decades did what he was told he couldn’t and wouldn’t do.

Finally, I’d like to tell you that my “Me and Doug” story had a profound impact on my social standing in the family.  Alas, it did not. I am still the erstwhile “Phony Doctor.”  But no matter.  No one can take away my memory. While I have never again seen #22 in person, I have enjoyed telling people about that event.

Whenever my brother-in-law makes even a veiled reference to “Park Place” or “Boardwalk” – before he can get to “Pass Go and Collect $200,” I become, like the Ancient Mariner, the “Haggard Hoopster,” a character compelled to spend the rest of his life, wandering from court to court, from family event to family event, from assembly to assembly, talking about that wonderful afternoon spent with my long lost friend, “Flutes.”

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