Almost three years have passed since a tiny freshman quarterback named Doug Flutie took the field for Boston College in the fourth quarter of a trouncing by Penn State. No one suspected then that the kid from Natick (Mass.) High, the local boy, would end 40 years of frustration by leading New England's only Division I-A school to two bowl games, a spot in the Top 20 and the 1983 Lambert Trophy as the East's No. 1 team. Too soon, the end: The 5'9", 175-pound Flutie is a senior, the last golden autumn beckons. BC fans can be forgiven a parting tear or two. They won't see his like again.
The Flutie years: the 11-car train to New Haven for the Yale game; the 10,000 BC fans who flew to the Tangerine Bowl in what one Eagle follower calls "the largest airlift from Boston to a single destination since World War II"; beating Alabama at Foxboro; tying national champion Clemson at Clemson and then beating Clemson at home the next year. Even the disappointments: Flutie on his back on a frozen field in Memphis, his last pass gone awry, the Notre Dame players hoisting coach Gerry Faust on their shoulders to celebrate their 19-18 victory in the Liberty Bowl—in which Flutie is the MVP. Little wonder that in Memphis, as the BC squad scampered down a hotel fire escape during a false alarm one afternoon before the game, wide receiver Gerard Phelan yelled, "Women, children and Doug Flutie first!"
These have also been the Bicknell years: the easygoing, articulate coach, Cowboy Jack Bicknell, and his son, All-New England center Jack Bicknell Jr. "People ask, 'What will BC do after Flutie?' " says Bicknell, the coach. "Well, we won't have another Flutie. But fortunately, while Doug has been here we've gotten better around him." The cream of Flutie's supporting cast includes tailback Troy Stradford, tight end Scott Gieselman, Phelan, tackle Mark MacDonald and noseguard Mike Ruth, the strongest player (530-pound bench press) in Eagle history. The Flutie era even has a promising epilogue: Doug's brother, Darren, will be a freshman receiver this fall.
Flutie finished third in last year's Heisman Trophy balloting, less for his statistical achievements—which include 7,125 passing yards for 40 touchdowns in 2½ seasons—than for his leadership and his knack for improvising under pressure. If Flutie stays healthy, he can break the NCAA career passing mark of 9,614 yards set by Duke's Ben Bennett last year. BC fans wish Flutie would add placekicking to his repertoire. Bicknell's kickers made only 10 of 23 field goals and 29 of 40 extra points in 1983.
But the story here is Flutie's last stand. "There's a lot of nostalgia surrounding it," says Rev. Leonard Mahoney, S.J., the team's unofficial chaplain. "It could be the end of an era. I hope not."
Flutie himself wishes he could stop the clock. "I'm not looking forward to finishing up," he says. "I'd love to play college football the rest of my life."
Camelot? One brief, shining moment? "We've had some golden periods, but this is one of the brightest in my 27 years as athletic director," says Bill Flynn. "Let's just hope and pray that the little guy stays in one piece."
In his final season Flutie (left) will be tossing passes to freshman brother Darren.