Playing for San Diego, Flutie feels recharged

Facing 'Skins on Sunday, veteran QB off to new start

Pro Football

September 07, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

Over the course of a career that spans 17 years, two countries and three professional leagues, Doug Flutie has been a little bit of everything (no short jokes intended), including a phone service pitchman, a drummer in a rock band, a charity fund-raiser and a figure on a cereal box.

Finally, it appears that in his first season in San Diego, Flutie may actually get a chance to be just a quarterback. He gets that opportunity in the season opener Sunday against the Washington Redskins.

And, for a pleasant change, Flutie is in a city where his height and running ability won't be treated as curiosities and where his presence won't touch off controversy.

"Your best opportunities, you have to jump at them, and this looked like a great situation for me personally," said Flutie earlier this week. "I'm tired of being in situations where there's some conflict somewhere along the line over who wants me there and who doesn't."

The reference is to his three seasons in Buffalo, where he and Rob Johnson battled to be the starter. The already tense situation was made even worse by their open dislike for each other, with reports that each attempted to undermine the other.

Bills owner Ralph Wilson eventually sided with Johnson, reportedly giving the order to start him in the 1999 wild-card playoff game against Tennessee, ignoring that Flutie had guided Buffalo to the postseason. Johnson went 24-for-32 in the game, but the Bills lost, 22-16, in the final seconds in what has come to be known as the "Music City Miracle," a throwback kickoff return for a touchdown.

New Buffalo coach Gregg Williams decided to keep Johnson, but fortunately for Flutie, former Bills general manager John Butler, and his assistant, A.J. Smith, landed in San Diego. They orchestrated the signing of the former Heisman Trophy winner and six-time Canadian Football League Most Outstanding Player to a six-year contract in March.

"It's a situation where I know the GM and his assistant. They knew me. They knew my work ethic and the way I do things," Flutie said. "It wasn't a situation where I'd be coming in cold and have to learn everyone and let them get a feel for you. It's a situation where I knew San Diego wanted me first."

Flutie alone likely won't be enough to propel the Chargers, who went 1-15 last season, into the playoffs or even respectability. But his presence is a good start.

"It has a positive effect, not only on the offense, but on the defense," said Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer. "When your quarterback is not solid, you fall behind 10 points in a game, and all of a sudden it's, `Wow, we're going to struggle to win this one.' But when you have a guy like Doug, who is so very resourceful, I think you always have hope that, hey, this guy might pull one out."

Oddly enough, Flutie is again paired with a younger, more conventional drop-back quarterback, Purdue's Drew Brees. Butler drafted Brees in the second round after trading the first overall pick in the draft, and with it Virginia Tech's Michael Vick, for a chance at running back LaDanian Tomlinson.

Brees, the Big Ten's all-time leading passer, is expected to take over the Chargers someday. He threw for more yards (481 to 285) and touchdowns (two to one) in preseason than Flutie. But for now, Flutie is the unquestioned starter and mentor to the rookie, as both learn the offense under new coordinator Norv Turner, the former Redskins coach.

Despite that 1-15 record as a backdrop, Flutie thinks that San Diego can climb over the competition, provided that Tomlinson and tight end Freddie Jones can round into form. Tomlinson was one of the last first-rounders to sign, and Jones, the team's leading receiver, missed all of camp while recuperating from a hernia surgery.

"We're just thankful that here it's Week One of the season," Flutie said. " ... we're starting to get people healthy, and it seems like the pieces are going to come together. The pieces of the puzzle are there. I think the talent level is there."

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