Well-accustomed to eluding sharks, at least those usually suited up as linebackers or defensive ends, Doug Flutie of late has gained some perspective on outmaneuvering the real-life version of the ocean predators.
“I’m kind of new to this whole surfing thing, and I love it,’’ the former Boston College star quarterback said late last week, speaking by cellphone while standing at the edge of the Atlantic in Melbourne, Fla. “But right now, as I look out, there’s about a nine-foot shark swimming along this beach, and just the other day a six-foot tiger shark went right under my board.
“It sort of makes you think, you know . . . ‘Uh, am I doing the right thing here?’ ’’
Flutie, 50 years old and nearly 29 years past heaving that ballyhooed “Hail Mary’’ pass against Miami, will be back in Boston a week from Tuesday night, one of the many honorees to be feted at the 12th annual “Tradition’’ ceremony at TD Garden.
For those still unfamiliar with the event, the Tradition is the Sports Museum’s biggest annual fund-raiser, honoring our town’s best and brightest athletes. Always a special night, there is really nothing like it, which is of course true of Flutie, the onetime Natick High School star who turned his long-ball wizardry and artful dodgery into fame and fortune. Other honorees will include Carlton Fisk, Jack Nicklaus, Derek Sanderson, Vince Wilfork, Aly Raisman, and the Celtics’ ownership group. It’s a stellar, eclectic bunch all under one roof for a few hours, with food and drink and hobnobbing as top-drawer as the talent.
“Great to be recognized for your career,’’ noted Flutie, who moved his family to Melbourne permanently earlier this year, their home in Natick still up for sale. “Something like this is for an entire body of work, I guess. And it’s always nice to be back in Boston, with friends . . . I don’t know, honestly, I’m not one who likes making a big deal, you know?’’
Now in his third season as a color commentator with NBC Sports, mainly assigned to Notre Dame football games, Flutie these days fulfills what he calls his “competitive fix’’ with a mixed bag of golfing, adult league baseball, and that new passion that has him zipping around the various dorsal fins that he can see cutting through the water outside his beachside home.
Part of his newly acquired fascination with surfing, said Flutie, is that he is sometimes joined by his son, 21-year-old Dougie, whose profound autism has kept him on the athletic sidelines throughout his life. Dougie doesn’t speak. His overall communication and athletic skills are few. In a world of games and players, he has been a watcher, silent, separate.
Out on the ocean, though, with the sun and the tide and whatever else it is that captures his eye and mind and heart, the challenged son of the 1984 Heisman Trophy winner acts as if he has conquered the perfect wave with his paddleboard.
“He’s not way out there, maybe only 30 yards or so,’’ said his dad, who 13 years ago with wife Laurie started a foundation in Dougie’s name, aimed at aiding families with autistic children. “But it’s so cool to see him. He just lights up like a Christmas tree. Even if he falls, he comes up laughing and smiling, just wants to do it again. It’s great. I mean, he’s 21, 6 feet tall, and towers over me . . . just this big twig of a kid. He loves, I mean loves, being tossed around by the big waves. He’s a boy. He needs it. He doesn’t get enough of it, I think.’’
One of the Sports Museum’s other lead initiatives is “Boston vs. Bullies,’’ a year-round anti-bullying campaign that began in May 2012. According to Lisa Borges, executive director of the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, the vast majority of higher-functioning autistic children, some 94 percent of them, are victims of bullying. The more profoundly autistic, such as Dougie, she said, typically are left alone.
“Because Dougie is very low-functioning, it’s easy for other kids to realize he has issues,’’ said his dad. “So, frankly, they stay away. Kids with Asperger’s [syndrome], and other kids at the higher end of the autism spectrum, it can be a huge factor for them. They often blend in more, some are very smart, but they’re easily targeted by other kids because they usually lack social skills.’’
“Agreed,’’ said Rusty Sullivan, the executive director of the Sports Museum, who has worked tirelessly with others to shape and implement Boston vs. Bullies. “The higher-end [autistic] kids are more in the mainstream, and once kids sense they’re just that little bit different, they’ve got a bull’s-eye on their back. With autism numbers up dramatically in recent years, and more in that mainstream when kids are trying to figure out who they are, say, in seventh and eighth grade, there’s just a lot of vulnerable kids.’’
Far older than any of the games we play, bullying is everywhere, a constant.
“And as a society, when we think maybe it’s going away,’’ mused Sullivan, “an incident arises to remind us that it’s always out there. We want people to know that Boston vs. Bullies is here, eager to help. We’d like to bring it to all 351 cities and towns in the state.’’
Sept. 17 again will have the Sports Museum at its best. There is no stage like the Tradition, with the Garden floor playing red carpet to some of our favorite performers such as Flutie, with the building’s rafters full of flags that remind us of championships and even some heartaches.
Overall, we are fortunate to be a city that has reveled in glory days, staged magnificent parades, thumped the drum of triumph. It’s the good work of the Sports Museum that helps to preserve all that. It’s the museum’s efforts to tamp down bullying that is worthy of an equal spotlight.