In the days before the New Jersey Generals opened the 1985 season in Birmingham, Doug Flutie was a worried man. "I was—and still am—so scared of not being accepted," said Flutie. "For the first time I'm unsure of myself. I don't have my self-confidence. I'm so used to having total control of every situation, of doing things unconsciously, especially on the field. Now, I have to think through every step."
Flutie, who signed a five-year, $7 million contract with the Generals on Feb. 4, had 16 days of practice and one exhibition game behind him when he ran onto Legion Field last Sunday for his nationally televised debut. For almost three quarters the game was the embarrassment he seemed to have envisioned. He went 0 for 9 with two interceptions before completing his first pass with 2:17 remaining in the third quarter. After that he finally settled down, even showing a glimpse of the Heisman Trophy-winning style that made him so dangerous at Boston College.
He finished with 12 completions in 27 attempts for 189 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions as the Generals, who trailed 31-7 before Flutie's first completion, lost 38-28.
"I know what they're saying: 'Is he worth it?' " Flutie had said before the game. "You know what I'm most afraid of? Losing. I'd like to have a great game, throw three touchdowns, have all kinds of yards. But it won't happen. I still don't see the entire picture out there. I only see two-thirds of the pass routes. I can't quite recognize the defenses."
After his debut, Flutie said, "I didn't work up a sweat until the third quarter. I wasn't in the flow of the game. When I can tuck it under and run and scramble, that's when I feel like myself."
The early part of the game was as frustrating for Chris Palmer, the Generals' offensive coordinator, as it was for his quarterback. Palmer had feared a poor start by Flutie, which would add to the immense pressure on the rookie. "By the late third quarter and early fourth, you started seeing the true Flutie," Palmer said. "He got into a rhythm, much like a golfer who has to hit a couple of balls to get in the groove."
Minutes before the game started, Dave Lapham, a Generals lineman, told Flutie not to worry: "I told him to take it easy, take it slow. It's just like eating an ice-cream cone."
Only, in this case the ice cream started to melt a little too soon.
Flutie was way off target until it was too late.