NATICK — His nephew plays baseball for Rollins College in Florida, where this tale began, and he hears it.
“You’re from Natick? Doug Flutie’s from Natick,” Brett Flutie says. “They don’t even have to know who I am. It’s the first thing that comes out of their mouths.
“Then they say, what’s your name? I say Brett. Your last name? I say, oh, Flutie. And they say, oh, really?”
It has been nearly three decades since the “Miracle in Miami,” when Uncle Doug threw an impossible touchdown pass to Boston College teammate Gerard Phelan on the final play on national TV on Thanksgiving weekend, but the name keeps coming up, probably because a family member usually is playing football somewhere, either throwing it or catching it.
“We’re Fluties,” says Bill, who started it all. “And we love to throw the football on every play.”
After Bill and Doug came Darren and then Bill’s sons Billy and Brett and now Darren’s son Troy, who is beginning his senior season as Natick’s quarterback and is bound for The Heights next year.
“Here we are again,” muses Tom Lamb, who coached the older Fluties in high school. “It’s almost deja vu.”
Now, as then, nothing is guaranteed for the youngest member of the second generation, who is the last of the Flutie line unless and until one of his own generation produces another Natick football player.
“[BC] said I’d be coming in as a receiver, as an athlete,” says Troy, who was an All-Scholastic signal-caller last season when he led the Redhawks to the Super Bowl. “Probably not quarterback, but you never know what’s going to happen.”
Four-year fairy tale
Doug began as a safety at Natick with a knack for interception and interdiction.
“Who is that?” Lamb asked when he noticed how few passes were being completed.
“The little Flutie kid,” he was told.
When the offense had trouble producing, Bill, who was quarterback, asked Lamb if his brother could play receiver.
“Tom said, I’ve got a better idea,” Bill recalls. “Why don’t you go to receiver and we’ll put Doug at quarterback?”
This kid is special, Lamb quickly concluded, but the consensus was that he was too small to play quarterback at a Division 1 college. Only BC was interested, and Doug made the traveling team as a punt returner, the fifth quarterback in line.
“I was looking for any possible way to get on the field,” he recalls.
Doug got his chance when the Eagles were being plucked and gutted at Penn State and coach Jack Bicknell was out of options.
“OK, Flutie,” he said. “Go in and see what you can do.”
From there it was a four-year fairy tale — the improbable comebacks, the bowl games, the Sports Illustrated cover (“Little Big Man”), the Heisman Trophy.
Darren, who was a freshman receiver when Doug was a senior, followed him into the pros and they ended up as teammates and then rivals, in the Canadian league, facing each other in the 1996 Grey Cup, where Doug’s Argonauts bested Darren’s Eskimos in a blizzard.
The brothers played for so long — Doug was 43 when he ended his career (with a drop-kicked extra point) with the Patriots in 2005 and Darren was 36 when he retired in 2002 — that their sons and nephews got to watch.
“I finished in Hamilton and Doug was in Buffalo at the time, so Troy would come to one of my games and then we’d drive across the border on a Sunday and watch Doug play against Jacksonville or someone,” recalls Darren, who like his brother is in the CFL Hall of Fame. “Those were just great days. Nothing’s better than that.”
Football by osmosis
It was taken for granted that the next generation also would strap on helmets.
“You couldn’t avoid it,” says Troy. “You know what’s going on. Going to all the games, seeing your father and uncle play, being given a football hanging around the house, dreaming of scoring touchdowns. It comes with it.”
So did an advanced education in Pigskin Philosophy and Practice. Watching a TV game with Doug or Darren was a living-room tutorial, like being in the film room.
“It wasn’t intentional,” says Doug. “But the level at which we talked, all the little things — it started to register with them at a young age.”
Bill and Darren coached their sons’ youth teams while Doug served as a drop-by guru.
“I was telling them to relax and have fun,” says Doug. “It’s easier to do that when you’re not the dad. I was more the fun uncle.”
Darren, who coaches the Natick receivers, ran a wide-open system for his son’s youth team.
“Pop Warner was double wing, T- formation, ram it down their throat,” says Troy. “We were spread out, doing hand signals, throwing it around. We were almost being prepped to do what we’re doing right now.”
Fluties traditionally have the ball in their hands — throwing it, catching it, carrying it — which puts them in the game’s vortex where they’re comfortable, especially if the clock is running down.
“They like being in those pressure situations and they thrive on them,” says Lamb. “I’d love to say that you can manufacture that, but it has to be born or bred into you.”
A name with weight
The cousins are proud of their pedigree.
“We love our name,” says Brett, who is Bill’s younger son and who was a receiver at Natick. “It’s not a negative thing.”
But with the Flutie name comes lofty expectations. When Billy was at The Heights, they built a statue of Doug outside Alumni Stadium. To drive between the Natick Mall and Shoppers World, you take Flutie Pass.
“The bar was set pretty high for us,” says Billy, now BC’s assistant director of athletic facilities. “We had a lot on our shoulders, I’m not going to lie, it was definitely tough.”
If a Flutie was playing, that meant someone else wasn’t.
“You’re going to upset people,” says Bill, who went on to play receiver at Brown, where he also was an All-Ivy third baseman. “If you’re the parents of a kid who isn’t playing and they’re bringing in a Flutie who’s a ninth-grader, you hear it.”
Billy, the first of the second generation and a quarterback at both Natick and BC, heard it at Pop Warner games, where there were “Kill Flutie” signs and chants.
“It was good for us because we dealt with it at an early age,” he says. “By the time we got to high school, it didn’t really bother us that much. We knew what was coming for us.”
In the Bay State Conference, where the rivalries with Walpole and Wellesley and Norwood and Framingham are fierce, the name Flutie frequently is preceded with another F-word.
“Every single game, there’s a defender that screams ‘something-Flutie,’ ” Natick coach Mark Mortarelli says about Troy, who has been the starter since midway through his freshman year. “Certainly everyone knows who he is. He has a remarkable quality of being able to just erase it, not think about it. He downplays it, smiles, and accepts it and lets it go.
“I’ve never seen him once flinch from it.”
Because the Fluties also played basketball and baseball, they got it at the foul line and in the batter’s box as well.
“To wear the name on the jersey attracts all sorts of attention, good and bad,” observes Natick athletic director Tim Collins, who formerly was Walpole’s basketball coach. “But they handle it with poise and class.”
Team comes first
The trash-talking comes with the territory, and the Fluties accept that. What stoked the younger generation’s competitive fires was any suggestion that the name alone put them at the top of the depth chart.
“I’ve been dealing with this my whole life,” says Troy. “I’m more comfortable with it now, but early on, it was, you’re only getting this or that because of your last name. Now I embrace it.”
The Fluties traditionally have silenced skeptics with performance, piling up yards and touchdowns while their teams win titles and bowl games, which the family considers more important.
“The team is first,” says Billy. “It was never about us. We were in it to win the game. We weren’t in it for the stats.”
The stats and the individual recognition that came with them, though, couldn’t be ignored. Troy’s three-year numbers (6,012 passing yards, 64 TDs) are beyond what Doug could have imagined posting himself in high school.
“I honestly think that Troy has something special, I really do,” Doug says. “I watch him play, his body language on the field, the way he carries himself . . . ”
Yet the big-time schools weren’t drooling over him.
“For most people out there, seeing Troy with the statistics and playing as well as he has, it’s, all right, the kid’s legit,” says Darren. “But there’s also a sector of people who say, he’s 6 feet, he’s 178, he’s undersized. Is he really a Division 1 football player? Or is he just in the right place at the right time with these great receivers? Who knows?”
Go someplace where they will recognize your value, he advised Troy. Maine, New Hampshire, Holy Cross all might have been good fits, but for a Flutie, BC generally has been the first option. When Troy had an impressive workout day there, with significant time spent at receiver, the Eagles quickly made him an offer.
“They said, we’re not taking you just because of your last name,” says Troy, who won’t sign officially until February. “We think you can play. We wouldn’t be taking you if we didn’t think that you could start for us. That made me feel a lot more comfortable.”
So much comes down to happenstance. Brett had great promise as a receiver until he tore an ACL three times.
“Brett in my eyes was the best athlete of all the Fluties,” says Billy.
Billy, who broke his ankle before his senior season at Natick but came back to win the Super Bowl with two field goals in filthy weather, was positioned to succeed Matt Ryan at BC but ended up at receiver after coach Tom O’Brien was succeeded by Jeff Jagodzinski.
Troy’s future in Chestnut Hill will be next year’s topic. This year is about the team formerly known as the Redmen, whom the Flutie fathers and cousins still follow obsessively.
“It’s been a joy,” says Doug, who lives in Florida but flies up for games when he can or follows them by phone or text. “It’s been a reason to hang around Natick.”
It all began in Melbourne Beach when Bill brought home a Little League application. What would have happened had their father, who was an engineer for an aerospace firm, kept the family in Florida?
“How would that have changed things? Who knows?” says Darren. “Something sent us up here. Something turned Doug’s life into the whole Boston College thing that flipped everything on its head.
“Here we are 32 years later and there’s another young Flutie kid that’s playing sports and going to BC. It’s awesome.”
John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.