Sports are about memories — memories of great plays, great players and great games that stay with us for life. But like childhood memories, a good chunk of what we remember didn’t happen quite the way we thought.
Thirty-two years ago today, Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie was awarded the 50th Heisman Trophy on the day he and the Eagles defeated Holy Cross 45-10 to finish 9-2. While he went on to defeat Houston in the Cotton Bowl one month later, Flutie’s 1984 season is remembered for a play one week prior to the Heisman ceremony.
Trailing 45-41 with just six seconds remaining against the No. 12 Miami Hurricanes, Flutie was flushed out of the pocket. Although he took the snap near midfield, by the time he avoided a potential sack and was in position to throw, he was 63 yards away from the end zone. Flutie set his feet, took a hitch step forward and launched the ball against the wind downfield.
Wide receiver Gerard Phelan made his way past a litany of Miami defenders who appeared to doubt Flutie’s ability to get the ball past the goalline. Well, Flutie made believers out of them and sailed the ball over every defender and into Phelan’s arms for the game-winning touchdown.
Those at home were serenaded by the commentary of Brent Musburger:
“Three wide receivers out to the right … Flutie flushed … throws it down … caught by Boston College! I don’t believe it! It’s a touchdown! “The Eagles win it! I don’t believe it! Phelan is at the bottom of that pile! Here comes the Boston College team! He threw it into the end zone! There was no time left on the clock! The ball went between two defensive backs of Miami!”
The immediate reaction following the game was that the “Hail Flutie” locked up the Heisman Trophy for the Boston College quarterback, and that narrative still exists today. However, voting for the Heisman ended before the BC-Miami game began, so as Boston Globe writer Mark Blaudschun put it: “That play didn’t win him the Heisman Trophy, it only justified it.”
Flutie received 678 first-place votes, while Ohio State running back Keith Byars was the next closest with 87.
“You saw me after the Miami game and this tops that,” Flutie told reporters after winning the award.
Thanks to Aaron Rodgers and Co., Hail Mary passes are much more common today than they were in the 1980s. But it’s still astounding when these plays work at all considering how simple the task should be to stop it.
It may not have helped Flutie win the Heisman, but it’s a play he — and anyone who witnessed it live or has seen the highlight since — will always remember.
He finished his college career with 10,759 yards passing with 70 touchdowns and 53 interceptions — 3,634 of those yards and 30 of those touchdowns came during the 1984 season.
When he turned pro, Flutie decided to join the USFL after being selected by the Donald Trump-owned New Jersey Generals in the 1985 territorial draft. Trump made the quarterback the highest-paid pro football player at the time with a five-year, $7 million contract.
After the USFL folded, Flutie made his way to the NFL for the 1986 season. He joined the Chicago Bears — who traded for his rights from the Los Angeles Rams, the team that drafted the quarterback after he decided to join the Generals. Flutie went on to play for the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers in his 12-year NFL career.