Monday, May 15, 2006

The Magic Phony

The biggest non-story of the day is the retirement of Doug Flutie, the mighty mulleted midget who, somehow, inexplicably became one of the most beloved sports figures of the last quarter-century. Through a combination of grit, luck and media manipulation, Flutie is the veritable poster boy for overachievement.

Considered too small to play football, Flutie has become an icon of "heart" overcoming physical limitations, and of a man with a penchant for magic finishes.

So many adjectives have been used to describe the diminutive gridiron "legend." Words like gritty, gutsy, heroic, clutch, magical, and other superlatives. He was relegated to playing minor league football in Canada until his meteoric return to the NFL with my Buffalo Bills. Even 6 years after he left the Bills, he is still deified in Western New York.

Let's just take a quick look at the reasons he has somehow been placed in the pantheon of clutch athletes.

But a closer look reveals that Flutie's accomplishments and achievements don't necessarily merit the cult status that he's achieved.

Now, you will never hear me say anything negative about the Hail Mary. It's one of the best plays in the history of football and one of the most iconic moments of 1980s sports, period.

The CFL stuff, however, while very impressive, is hardly the kind of achievement that usually garners much attention this side of the 49th parallel. Do you think that the average casual sports fan can name any other single CFL Most Outstanding Player? (I can name three others: Tom Clements, Rocket Ismail, Jeff Garcia. But then again, I'm a huge geek.)

Also, let's further examine Flutie's return to the NFL for a moment. His 1998 season with Buffalo cannot be taken away. It was one of the most fun seasons of football that I can remember and he really took that team on his back. I will not begrudge him that. But by 1999, defensive coordinators had gotten wise to his shenanigans and he became very stifled, offensively. In fact, the reason the Bills made the playoffs that year is because they had the #1 defense in the league.

But by this time, so many blue-collar simpletons were so enamored with Flutie that he could do no wrong. So when Flutie was pulled for the Bills' first playoff game, Bills fans were aghast. How could they possibly bench the great Flutie? Most people forget that Rob Johnson actually had that playoff game won .... until a little thing called the Music City Miracle happened. (Imagine if that play had never happened. The Bills go onto the Super Bowl, Rob Johnson becomes a local hero, my brother doesn't destroy a lamp in righteous anger immediately after the game, I don't contemplate driving head-on into oncoming traffic later that day.)

What was interesting about this little turn of events, though, is that Flutie subsequently became Machiavellian in his desire to turn the team against Johnson and in favor of himself. He talked trash about Johnson, asked teammates to back him, and became an overall non-team player. (If you read interviews with Flutie from this time period, sucesses were always measured in "me" and "I," and failures were spoke of with "we" or even "they." You can read a full account of Bucky Gleason's original account of Flutie right after he left the Bills in 2001 here.

Ironically, Bills fans, who had so long championed the character-laden philosophy of Marv Levy and Bill Polian, looked the other way at Flutie's Phonyness. Instead, people clamored for Flutie's return to the suddenly-mediocre Bills in 2000, and when he left the Bills for the San Diego Chargers before the 2001 season, Bills fans in Rochester (mostly women, for what it's worth) petitioned the local radio and TV stations to broadcast Chargers games, even if it meant not showing Bills games. It was a sad, pathetic time, and I was ashamed to be a Bills fan.

After Flutie left the team, the Bills did not return to their former glory, and haven't made the playoff since. So maybe this is why I am bitter against the little Napoleonic prick. But I'd like to think it's that I reject phony people who try to manipulate their own image to look better.

What is amazing to me is how the legend of Flutie still lives, especially in Western New York. Here is a guy who did win the Heisman Trophy (as did O.J. Simpson, by the way), had an incredible play in college, and then really didn't do much. He was a bust in the NFL (save for that one season), and never won a playoff game. After his one great NFL season, he fizzled out as a backup in San Diego and New England, notably making the first drop kick in 64 years in 2005.

So considering the fact that Flutie's list of actual accomplishments is brief, it is clear that the power of selective memory and the phenomenon of legend-over-reality is influential. Since Flutie will continue to be on TV doing college football analysis for ABC/ESPN, his continued exposure will only add to his legend. The guy's 21-year football career is nothing to sneeze at, but I wonder if people who love him so much remember why they actually loved him in the first place.


Paul said...

FU Bill. How dare you disgrace Flutie? I am not a simpleton! I would be pissed if I was benched over Rob Johnson too. Fluties had a .677 winning perecentage as a Bill, the man new how to win. Sometimes the great ones are pricks (MJ, Steve Tasker), but thats what you have to have to win. I wish Johnson had that. Johnson played shitty that playoff game any way. And remeber week 7 of the 2001 season? Flutie found a way to beat Johnson. His style of play wasn't ready for the NFL in his prime, and it is a shame. He isn't the reason the Bills suck now, the organization is. I still am dumbfounded that they started Johnson. He had a good game in a meaningless one. Flutie had the right to be pissed. Flutie Would have played Special Temas, and the Music City Mircale would not happen. Karma man, Karma!

Bill said...

Those would all be good points if any one of them were true.

Paul said...

Oh it's on!

Bill said...

Oh it's on like Donkey Kong!

tonypounds said...

"oh, it's on like donkey kong. you wanted that fast buck. now it's time to light that ass up!"

can i get in on this one? anyway, they have been giving flute a week long going away blow job here in canada. he only played for 3 of the 8 cfl teams. that's less than half. come on doug, you could have done better. the cfl is now pecking the nfl drug related rejects, because (surprise) the cfl has no drug policy. welcome ricky williams! it's like the best of both worlds. hey, i think he's playing here in toronto. you should come up. we'll see a game and throw pot at him and watch him fumble the ball in an attempt to smoke it. ha! drug users!

brooke said...

Mmm...this Flutie Flakes sure taste delicious.