Doug Flutie 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 story is true.

My brother-in-law, John, holds a special, somewhat elevated status in our extended family for two important reasons. First, he is a medical professional, and as a result, he is respectfully referred to as the family’s “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 student days at Boston College, he once played a game of “Monopoly” with a then unknown freshman by the name of 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 #22.

(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.

Doug did a lot of amazing things on the gridiron, but he is best remembered for one particular play:

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

Three 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  “The 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 turned out, that this was the offensive unit from Boston College’s then nationally ranked (#4) football team.  Because there were 9 of them, they waited around for a while, in the hope that someone with a bit more athletic promise might eventually appear. When he or she didn’t, they eventually and 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 just to run baseline to baseline with my new best friend, Doug Flutie.

Three decades later, I have 2 memories from that magical afternoon.

First, Doug had the hairiest hands I had ever seen. He was a complete bear, even at 5 foot 8.

Second, 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 felt disrespectful.

As I drifted up and down the court, I found myself wondering, if in the same spirit, Achilles’ friends had ever call out to him, “Hey, ‘Ack’, I’m open!” or “’A-dog’ hit me!” when they were playing  “Rockball” or “Attack the Goat” or whatever it was they played in between graduate school classes back during the Trojan War?

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.

It’s important to remember Flutie’s career, because you may hear the same kind of “you’re not good enough” messages he had to put up with early in his career. From time to time, people may tell you, “You’re not good enough in science to become a medical doctor.” Or “Your voice isn’t strong enough for you to be a lead in the musical.” Or “You don’t skate well enough to play at a high level.” I hope that, when you do hear these kinds of messages, you’ll take heart and remember a 5 foot 8 kid with hairy hands, who for over two decades did what he was told he couldn’t do.

Finally, I’d like to tell you that my “Me and Doug” story has had a profound impact on my social standing in the family.  Alas, it has not. I am still the erstwhile “Phony Doctor.”  But no matter.  My brother in law may have played “Monopoly” with an 18 year old freshman, but I enjoyed a magical afternoon of hoops with a guy who’d won the Heisman Trophy the week before, my friend “Flutes.”


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