Almost every day at Bills training camp this summer, Thurman
Thomas strolled up to quarterback Doug Flutie and said, "You
know, everybody thinks last year was a fluke."
Thomas, a running back and the unofficial team psychologist,
acknowledges that he did this to motivate Flutie by picking at a
very old and sensitive scab. Flutie hardly needed to be reminded
that a 5'10", 36-year-old Canadian Football League refugee
taking over a 1-3 team and guiding it into the playoffs was
considered by far the most stunning feat in the NFL last season.
"I know people are saying I shouldn't be doing what I've done,
that I don't fit the mold and so I must be tricking people and
doing it with mirrors," Flutie says. "On the highlights,
everybody sees me scrambling and improvising, but the majority
of plays, I just take my reads and throw the ball. There's this
impression that it's all the 'Flutie Magic,' but there's no
magic to it. It's hard work."
In fact, Flutie delights in parroting the many critics of his
diminutive stature. On Oct. 11, during the final moments of
Buffalo's 31-24 win over the Colts, in which Flutie relieved an
injured Rob Johnson early on and completed 23 of 28 passes for
213 yards, 6'5" Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning threw a
pass that was batted down at the line. Flutie began playfully
screaming toward Manning, "He's too short!"
That victory began Flutie's improbable run. He steered the Bills
to eight wins in their next 11 games. In those 11 games the
Bills averaged 26.3 points and 356 yards, and for the year
Flutie helped the offense produce 51 more first downs and 145
more points than it did in '97. "Getting Doug was one of the
best moves we've made since I came to Buffalo," says Thomas, who
is entering his 12th season. "You have to go back to Fran
Tarkenton to find anybody with the creativity to win games like
Over a busy summer the newly lionized Flutie delivered the
commencement address at Cazenovia (N.Y.) College, recorded a CD
with his band, The Flutie Gang, and reluctantly agreed to become
a consultant on a movie about his roller-coaster career. He also
endured rampant speculation about whether he could repeat his
success against defenses whose coaching staffs presumably have
toiled during the off-season plotting ways to counter Flutie's
unique style. Flutie scoffs, saying that he has already seen
every conceivable defense.
Dating back to his days at Boston College, when he started out
as the Eagles' fifth-string quarterback and went on to win the
'84 Heisman Trophy, Flutie has grown accustomed to hearing the
doubters. He's convinced he'll never silence all of his critics.
"Some hardheaded people took a stance 15 years ago and swore by
it, and that's why I was out of this league for eight years,"
Flutie says. "I used to worry about what people said and wrote,
but I've learned to ignore it."
Fortified by a new four-year, $22 million contract extension,
Flutie enjoys as much job security as anybody whose backup
(Johnson) has a five-year, $25 million contract. Bills coach
Wade Phillips insists that he won't be buffaloed into a change,
even if Flutie struggles. "Doug has established himself as our
quarterback," Phillips says. "Doug is the present. Rob is the
future." It's just that nobody knows exactly when the future
might arrive in Buffalo. In fact, going into training camp,
Flutie and Johnson were listed as costarters on the depth chart.
Flutie benefits from a solid receiving corps that includes the
indomitable Andre Reed, rookie Peerless Price and rising star
Eric Moulds, who led the AFC with 1,368 receiving yards in '98
and averaged an extraordinary 48.9 yards on his nine touchdown
catches. However, the Bills will need more consistency from
running back Antowain Smith and the rest of their rushing attack,
which struggled in the red zone a year ago.
Above all, Flutie hopes to prove that winning the job as the
Bills' quarterback isn't a Hollywood script after all. "I still
feel like every game we win, I have to go out and win the next
week to prove that last week wasn't a fluke," Flutie says. "It
kind of bothers me when people ask me if I could have imagined
anything like this would happen in my wildest dreams. To heck
with that. This is exactly what I hoped and expected would
happen, and I expect to play even better this season. My wildest
dreams haven't come true yet."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Tough catch As self-confident as he is elusive, Flutie says he's prepared for any new trick that opposing defenses throw at him.
COLOR PHOTO: JOE TRAVER
Sept. 12 at Indianapolis
19 N.Y. JETS
Oct. 4 at Miami (Mon.)
24 at Seattle
31 at Baltimore
Nov. 7 at Washington
21 at N.Y. Jets
28 NEW ENGLAND
Dec. 5 Open date
12 N.Y. Giants
19 at Arizona
26 at New England
Jan. 2 INDIANAPOLIS
1998 Record 10-6 (3rd in AFC East)
NFL rank (rush/pass/total): offense 3/12/6; defense 5/14/6
1999 Schedule strength NFL rank: 25 (tie) Opponents' 1998
winning percentage: .480 Games against playoff teams: 7
THE SACK GAP
The most significant statistical contrast between Doug Flutie
and Rob Johnson last year was in their ability to avoid sacks.
Playing behind the same offensive line, Flutie was sacked once
every 30.5 drop backs, while Johnson was sacked once every 4.7.
Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, only five pairs of quarterbacks
who combined to start all of their team's games have produced
such a wide disparity in their sack rates (minimum 120 drop
backs per quarterback).
Team Drop backs Drop backs
Quarterback Starts per sack Quarterback Starts per sack Diff.
Steve Walsh 7 86.0 Bobby Hebert 9 16.5 69.5
Jack Trudeau 5 82.0 Jeff George 11 16.7 65.3
Terry Hanratty 6 55.3 Terry Bradshaw 8 9.7 45.6
Mark Rypien 3 65.0 Vinny Testaverde 13 32.3 32.7
John Friesz 3 41.0 Rick Mirer 13 10.3 30.7
Doug Flutie 10 30.5 Rob Johnson 6 4.7 25.8
PLAYER TO WATCH
When Sam Cowart was a freshman linebacker at Florida State in
'93, teammate Derrick Brooks tagged him with a daunting nickname
that would stick for the rest of Cowart's college career: NFL.
Five years later Cowart fulfilled the prophecy as Buffalo's top
choice in the '98 draft. Coach Wade Phillips compares Cowart's
quickness and instincts to those of the player he replaced, Chris
Spielman. Phillips marvels at Cowart's ability to start five
yards off the line of scrimmage yet still make tackles in the
backfield. "I was a running back in high school," Cowart says,
"so when the ball is snapped, I put myself in the running back's
shoes and ask myself, Where would I go? Then I meet him there."
PROJECTED LINEUP WITH 1998 STATISTICS
Coach: Wade Phillips
Second season with Bills (27-25 in NFL)
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Doug Flutie 49
354 att. 202 comp. 57.1% 2,711 yds. 20 TDs 11 int. 87.4 rtg.
RB Antowain Smith 76
300 att. 1,124 yds. 3.7 avg. 5 rec. 11 yds. 2.2 avg. 8 TDs
RB Thurman Thomas 254
93 att. 381 yds. 4.1 avg. 26 rec. 220 yds. 8.5 avg. 3 TDs
FB Sam Gash 279
11 att. 32 yds. 2.9 avg. 19 rec. 165 yds. 8.7 avg. 3 TDs
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Eric Moulds 47 67 rec. 1,368 yds. 9 TDs
WR Andre Reed 116 63 rec. 795 yds. 5 TDs
WR Peerless Price (R)258 61 rec. 920 yds. 10 TDs
TE Jay Riemersma 235 25 rec. 288 yds. 6 TDs
K Steve Christie 109 41/41 XPs 33/41 FGs 140 pts.
PR Kevin Williams 218 37 ret. 10.0 avg. 0 TDs
KR Kevin Williams 218 47 ret. 22.5 avg. 0 TDs
LT John Fina 6'4" 300 lbs. 14 games 14 starts
LG Ruben Brown 6'3" 304 lbs. 13 games 13 starts
C Jerry Ostroski 6'4" 310 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Joe Panos 6'2" 293 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Robert Hicks 6'7" 338 lbs. 10 games 2 starts
LE Phil Hansen 67 tackles 7 1/2 sacks
NT Ted Washington 50 tackles 4 1/2 sacks
RE Bruce Smith 50 tackles 10 sacks
OLB Sam Rogers 58 tackles 4 1/2 sacks
ILB John Holecek 78 tackles 0 sacks
ILB Sam Cowart 72 tackles 2 int.
OLB Gabe Northern 32 tackles 2 sacks
CB Ken Irvin 51 tackles 1 int.
SS Henry Jones 71 tackles 3 int.
FS Kurt Schulz 43 tackles 6 int.
CB Thomas Smith 33 tackles 1 int.
P Chris Mohr 69 punts 41.8 avg.
New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 122)