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Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. He’s contributed today’s guest post, and we thank him for that. This one is certainly thought-provoking.



I recently ranked Doug Flutie 31st among the greatest quarterbacks of all time, ahead of accomplished players like Kurt Warner, Boomer Esiason, and Ben Roethlisberger. Perhaps predictably, the unconventional ranking for Flutie generated questions, comments, and plain disagreement. I hope this follow-up will clear some of the confusion and help readers understand my reasoning.

I was attempting to rank the greatest quarterbacks ever — not just the best NFL quarterbacks — and this was not a stat-based evaluation. Statistics play a large role in the assessment of players, but they do not form an exclusive basis for it. When I rated Flutie ahead of Warner and company, I wasn’t suggesting that he had a better NFL career than those players, just that he was a better quarterback.

Here’s a breakdown of Flutie’s career:

* New Jersey Generals, 1985 (USFL)
* Chicago Bears, 1986-87
* New England Patriots, 1987-89
* BC Lions, 1990-91 (CFL)
* Calgary Stampeders, 1992-95 (CFL)
* Toronto Argonauts, 1996-97 (CFL)
* Buffalo Bills, 1998-2000
* San Diego Chargers, 2001-04
* New England Patriots, 2005

My evaluation of Flutie begins with the belief that he was a good player during his three seasons with the Buffalo Bills. In 1998, Flutie made the Pro Bowl, and deserved it. He had great passing stats (20 TD, 11 INT, 7.2 NY/A) and very good rushing stats (248 yds, 5.2 avg, TD).1 He was even better by the eye test, a fixture on the highlight shows, and no one was more composed under pressure. The Bills went 8-3 with Flutie at the controls, compared to 2-3 with Rob Johnson under center. Altogether, from 1997-2001, the Bills were 22-9 with Flutie (.710), compared to 16-33 (.327) without him.

In fact, from 1998-2000, Flutie had the best winning percentage of any starting quarterback in the NFL (tied with Vinny Testaverde), and Buffalo’s winning percentage without Flutie was by far the worst of any team from 1997-01 (SD, .413). Flutie turned the worst team in the league into the best team in the league. Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders called replacing Flutie with Rob Johnson “the worst coaching move of all time.”2

Flutie was a big-play passer, distinguished by his high average yardage and low sack rate, and he remained one of the best running quarterbacks in football, leading all NFL QBs in rushing in 1999, by over 100 yards. Flutie is often underrated when people forget that passing statistics are insufficient to evaluate the position; he was an electric runner throughout his career, and it’s an essential element of his legacy. If you want to adjust his stats for context — Buffalo winters, undistinguished teammates and coaching staff, tough strength of schedule3 — that would only add to Flutie’s case.

Flutie’s stats with the Bills are good, he passed the eye test, he was voted to the Pro Bowl, and his positive effect on the team was undeniable. Flutie was a good quarterback in Buffalo, years representing his age 36-38 seasons. Let’s go backwards from there.

Normal aging patterns imply that Flutie was probably a substantially better player during his years in Canada. An athlete who was great at age 36 was usually outstanding at age 31. Over 99% of players have their best seasons before they turn 36. Recognizing what Flutie did in his late 30s, one would assume he was even better in his early 30s.

In Flutie’s case, the record would not dissuade you from believing that. He passed for 6,619 yards in 1991, the professional record in any league. He set the CFL single-season TD record. He rushed for 600 yards and 8 TDs a year. He was named CFL Most Outstanding Player a record six times. He won three Grey Cup MVPs. In 2006, he was selected as the greatest player in CFL history. If you assumed — based on his play with the Bills and an understanding of aging patterns — that Flutie was a great player in the early ’90s, his accomplishments in the CFL would support that assumption.

Flutie didn’t perform like someone who belonged in the CFL: he dominated the league, more so than anyone else in its 60-year history. If you took a great NFL quarterback and put him in the CFL, you would expect him to do exactly what Flutie did, maybe even not quite as exceptionally. If Troy Aikman or Jim Kelly had played in the CFL in the early ’90s, would they have been more successful than Flutie? We’ll never know, but I don’t see how it’s possible. What more could Flutie have done in the CFL to show that he was a great player? Pass for 7,000 yards and rush for 1,000? Win a game by himself after all his teammates got ejected? Flutie wasn’t just a great player in the CFL, he was an anomaly, he was Neo from The Matrix.

What about the other side: is there anything to suggest that Flutie wasn’t a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback during his prime in Canada? Not really. The only argument against Flutie is that he wasn’t in the NFL — an argument which, by itself, is meaningless. The idea that it is impossible for someone to be a good football player unless he’s on an NFL roster is obviously false. It’s just a lot harder to prove when he’s not facing the best competition in the world.

So I don’t think I’ve proven that Flutie was a great QB during his CFL years, but I do think any attempt to assess his play during those years strongly suggests that Flutie was one of the best quarterbacks in the world. John Madden is quoted as saying, “Inch for inch, Flutie in his prime was the best QB of his generation.”

Flutie skeptics often point to his very limited success as a young player with the Bears and Patriots. I have no interest in pretending that Flutie was a great pro QB in the 1980s. I believe that, like many quarterbacks, Flutie developed into a better player in his late 20s and early 30s. But I also believe that Flutie’s detractors frequently mischaracterize his play in the early parts of his pro career.

Flutie only attempted 71 regular-season passes with Chicago (a tiny sample in which he was rather good: 86.6 passer rating, 6.75 ANY/A).4 He was quite bad (11-of-31, TD, 2 INT) in the Bears’ playoff loss, though Mike Ditka has always maintained that Flutie was a good quarterback, and the right choice to start that game. Flutie was the Patriots’ most successful quarterback in the late ’80s. His stats are poor out of context, but a lot of that was lack of support: no QB had any real success with that team. Flutie went 8-5 (.615) as New England’s starter, compared to 14-20 (.412) for the other QBs from 1987-89.5 Steve Grogan (7-9), Tony Eason (3-5), Tom Ramsey (2-2), Marc Wilson (1-3), and Bob Bleier (1-1) were all at or below .500; Flutie was the only Pats QB with a winning record.

Again, for emphasis: I am not claiming that Flutie was a great QB, or even a good QB, with the Bears and Patriots. I don’t think it is obvious that he was even an average player during those years. But 350 passes from ages 24-27 would not discredit the rest of his career even if he had played terribly, and I don’t see a basis for concluding that Flutie was terrible in the 1980s.

But the mediocre performances, combined with concerns about Flutie’s lack of height, washed him out of the league. He signed with the Canadian Football League’s BC Lions, and after a disappointing debut in 1990, when the only area in which he excelled was rushing (662 yds, 8.4 avg), Flutie had his first CFL Most Outstanding Player season in 1991. He passed for 6,619 yards and 38 TDs, and rushed for 610 yards and 14 TDs. The Lions couldn’t afford him after that, and Flutie spent four seasons with the Calgary Stampeders. He won three straight MOP Awards and a Grey Cup, before an injury-shortened ’95 in which he posted a career-high passer rating. It turned out the Stampeders couldn’t afford Flutie, either; they’d been behind on his salary from Day One, and to this day have never paid what his contract called for. Flutie moved on to the CFL’s largest market, Toronto. The Argos had gone 4-14 before Flutie arrived, their fourth consecutive losing season. In both of Flutie’s seasons with the team, Toronto went 15-3 and won the Grey Cup, with Flutie earning CFL MOP and Grey Cup MVP honors in both years. Teammate Michael Clemons said of the improvement, “We won 11 more games. If we had to say how many games were attributed to Doug Flutie, he’s not perfect. So 10 of the 11.”

That run of greatness earned Flutie a spot with the Bills, with whom he validated his success in Canada. Just before his 39th birthday, Flutie signed with the Chargers. He served mostly as a backup to Drew Brees, but when Brees was benched late in 2003, Flutie stepped in and played well. In five starts, he passed for 9 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions, with 168 yards and 2 TDs rushing — the highest totals ever for a player over 40. Flutie was one of the best old QBs in history; FiveThirtyEight’s Neil Paine pointed out that age-regression “implies that if Flutie had been given a real shot in the NFL at his peak, he’d have put up a Manningesque +3 RANY/A.”

My belief that Flutie was a great quarterback is founded primarily on three ideas:

* Flutie played very well for the Bills from age 36-38, and reasonably well for the Chargers in his early 40s.

* Our understanding of aging patterns implies that Flutie was a better player in his late 20s and early 30s than he was at the end of his career.

* Flutie’s unparalleled results in the CFL support the hypothesis that Flutie was at least as good in those years as he was in 1998.

The CFL has never been nearly as strong an overall league as the NFL, but many talented players have passed through Canada, and Flutie is widely acknowledged as the greatest. In 1998, at age 36, Flutie made the Pro Bowl and deserved it. It is my belief that in each of Flutie’s six seasons as the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player, he was at least as good as in ’98. That would give him seven Pro Bowl-caliber seasons, which is a Hall of Fame standard. I don’t find it plausible that Flutie was just as good at age 41 as he had been at age 31, when he was setting CFL records and establishing a legacy as the greatest player in league history. I don’t believe he was a better player in two-thirds of a season at age 36 than he was in full seasons in his athletic prime.

If the only argument against Flutie is that he wasn’t playing in the NFL, that argument is ill-founded. In evaluating Flutie, we must try to put his CFL performance into context, not throw it out entirely. Ignoring a player’s athletic prime, and judging him on his performances at age 25 and 40, can not possibly yield an accurate picture of his career. There’s a lot of guesswork involved in comparing a player like Flutie to his contemporaries in the NFL, but I don’t find any compelling evidence that Flutie was not an exceptional player in the early ’90s, compared to several indications strongly suggesting that Flutie was one of the greatest QBs of his generation.

  1. Last year, Chase rated Flutie’s ’98 as the 4th-best season of any QB that year, and comfortably among the top 200 QB seasons of all time, despite that he only started 10 games. []
  2. Schatz goes into more depth in this piece, with gems like “one of the most mismatched quarterback controversies of all time” and “all logical evidence screaming the name ‘Doug Flutie'”. []
  3. From 1998-2000, the AFC East had the best record in football, 136-104 (.567), even if you exclude the 29-19 Bills (107-85, .557). The NFC Central is next (.542), followed by the AFC West (.496), AFC Central (.478), NFC East (.463), and NFC West (.458). The Simple Rating System at Pro-Football-Reference shows Buffalo’s strength of schedule at least 1 point above league average for each of Flutie’s three seasons. []
  4. Jim McMahon had a 76.6 rating a 5.36 ANY/A during the same time period. []
  5. Or 26-40 (.394) from 1986-90 if you prefer a larger sample. []
  • sacramento gold miners

    I agree, Doug Flutie was a great pro football QB. The way he was highly effective at an older age in the NFL speaks volumes about his talent. Unfortunately, he came along at a time when old fashioned thinking was still the norm in the NFL. The folks making the decisions often had their roots in the 1950s and 1960s, and for them, Flutie’s height was a death sentence. Had Flutie come up today, it would have been easier for him to find a match with a team for success.

    • Richie

      What?

      “However, at his height teams will have concerns whether or not he can
      see to make the throws at the next level. He is a mechanical mover who
      has strong technique and leadership qualities. If Russell Wilson were three
      inches taller there would be debate at the top of the draft as to where
      he fits in”

      3 years ago a guy got dropped 2 rounds just because of his height. Getting drafted in the 3rd round can be a death sentence to an NFL QB’s career. Wilson was lucky that the team that drafted him didn’t have any other options. And he was lucky to end up on a team with a great defense and a good RB. Once given the chance to play, he started off good enough to keep the job, and with experience played well enough to lock it in.

      If Wilson had landed on the 1987 Patriots, he would probably be looking to the CFL as well.

      The NFL most definitely still criticizes QB’s for being too short.

      • sacramento gold miners

        Agreed, height is still talked about, but isn’t as big as a negative when compared to Flutie’s era. The success of Russell Wilson helped, and the schemes today help with roll outs and the increased running. No doubt the height aspect hurt Wilson, but he went to a progressive organization willing to give him a chance. In Flutie’s day, New England’s HC just didn’t like a smaller QB, despite the wins.

        It’s just different today, having a QB do a read-option in 1987 would have been seen as crazy.

        Interesting fact, ten years earlier, in 1977, the KC Chiefs used a Wing-T offense for the whole season. It was effective, but the Chiefs had a porous defense, and that type of offense isn’t suited for comeback wins. Marv Levy was fired later as HC

  • Interesting stuff. And I agree, the CFL years certainly passes the thought test of what you would expect from an elite NFL player. When he returned to the Patriots in 05, I remember thinking – listening to some of the comments Belichick made about his career – that if the Bledsoe-injury had happened to Testaverde in Cleveland in 94, BB would almost definitely have pulled Flutie to the Browns and he would have taken off completely.

    His CFL performance sort of reminds me of del Piero and Buffon when they as reigning world champs had one season in the Italian soccer league’s second tier because Juventus was force-relegated in a referee-rigging scandal. They completely dominated in all aspects of the game, but the statistical records were still no more out-of-this-world than Flutie in CFL. After all, even inferior talent can be very fast and strong, putting a natural limit to how much a single person can dominate.

    • I’m not familiar with the Juventus relegation, but I do think you’re on to something, and in American football in particular, it’s easy to understand: if one player is killing you, the defense can adapt to focus on him. Quarterback’s too good? Use nickel defense on first down, put a spy on him, etc. I’ve made a similar argument about Charlie Hennigan in the 1961 AFL — I don’t think Jerry Rice and Don Hutson in their primes would have posted better stats than Hennigan. There’s a realistic limit to what a single player can produce statistically, and Flutie performed around that limit.

      I would love to see what Belichick might have done with Flutie in the mid-90s; he strikes me as a coach who could take full advantage of Flutie’s abilities.

      • Richie

        “I would love to see what Belichick might have done with Flutie in the mid-90s”

        More drop-kicks!

        • WR

          I’ve always thought that goalkeepers’ stats reflect the defensive strength of the team, more than the individual GK. Juventus in 06-07 had a team defensive unit that was way better than the average team in the Italian 2nd division. As for Flutie, how much of an adjustment should we make, when assessing his CFL stats, for the different rules and style of play? 3 downs, wider and longer field, etc., plus the fact that there is so much more emphasis on passing offense in Canada?

          • “how much of an adjustment should we make, when assessing his CFL stats, for the different rules and style of play?”

            I think this is where a lot of readers misunderstood my approach. I don’t think we make any adjustment, because in comparing Flutie’s CFL years to NFL QBs, I don’t think we should start with his CFL stats. My thinking progression was basically this:

            very good with BUF –> probably even better when younger –> tore CFL to pieces –> probably just as good in CFL as with BUF

            Because we really can’t compare CFL stats to NFL stats, I get the NFL context from his performance as an old player with the Bills and Chargers, then compare his CFL performance to other CFL players. I think it’s an exercise in futility to try to “translate” Flutie’s 1994 stats into NFL numbers.

            • Andrew Healy

              Just wanted to say that I enjoyed the piece, too. I was kind of with you on Flutie before reading it and even more so now. You particularly got me to rethink the Patriots stint.

  • Tim Truemper

    Brad, you make a compelling case and based on the premise of career in professional football as the reason for his elevated ranking, then I can see why he was placed above others who had more stellar NFL careers. Would have liked to see more about his USFL period as I would figure that the competition there was even stronger than the CFL. To support your argument further, we have seen a few other NFL standout QB’s spend time in the CFL with Warren Moon and Joe Theisman being easily remembered examples. I am not going to debate the ranking you assigned (I did post an earlier comment about this) but instead accept that you were arguing his relative success in the NFL based on comparison to other performers with similar circumstances, and his overwhelmingly dominant success in the NFL. I think it would be hard to argue that Flutie could not have had a great long career if he had stayed in the NFL if given a better opportunity.

    • Richie

      Not sure the USFL offers us much help.

      Flutie completed 134 of 281 passes (47%) for 2,109 yards and 13 TD’s with the Generals in 1985 in 15 games.

    • Thanks, Tim. The USFL was definitely stronger than the CFL, but Flutie was a rookie, and didn’t play particularly well. He ran effectively (465 yds, 7.2 avg, 6 TD), but he was not an efficient passer. The heart of his career was the 1990s.

  • Richie

    “Over 99% of players have their best seasons before they turn 36”

    Is that an actual stat, or a literary device? Which players DIDN’T have their best season before turning 36?

    • One might say Peyton Manning, although I (and RANY/A) am partial to his ’04 season.

      Randall Cunningham had his best season at age 35.

      But here’s a list of players who had their best season in RANY/A * (ATT + DB), which, of course, is the only way one could measure such a thing, at age 36+:

      1) Brett Favre, age 40, 2009 Vikings

      2) Jim Plunkett, age 39, 1986 Raiders. So weird. But Plunkett’s only top-10 appearance in ANY/A in a season came in his final season in the NFL. He went 3-5, too.

      3) Charlie Conerly, age 38, 1959 Giants. Was MVP.

      4) Rich Gannon, age 37, 2002 Raiders. Was MVP.

      5) Roger Staubach, age 37, 1979 Cowboys.

      6) Y.A. Tittle, age 37, ’63 Giants. Was MVP.

      Bubby Brister and Todd Collins also had their best seasons at age 36, but, ya know.

      7) Steve DeBerg, age 36, 1990 Chiefs

      8) Billy Kilmer, age 36, 1975 Washington

      9) Phil Simms, age 36, 1990 Giants

      10) Fran Tarkenton, age 36, 1976 Vikings

      In addition, John Brodie, Cunningham, Charley Johnson, Tobin Rote, and Testaverde all had their best year at age 35.

      • Richie

        Good stuff.

        I thought about Staubach and Gannon, but figured Staubach had a better season before turning 36. And thought Gannon wasn’t yet 36 in 2002.

        Now find me a non-QB who did it. 🙂

      • Piggy-backing on Chase’s comments—

        Randall Cunningham had his best statistical season at age 35; I am very doubtful that this reflects his true talent level. More likely, it’s the difference between Fred Barnett and Keith Byars vs Randy Moss and Cris Carter, Buddy Ryan and Rich Kotite vs Dennis Green and Brian Billick.

        The idea that 2009 was Favre’s best season, while widespread, is ludicrous. I know Chase is only telling us what a particular stat shows, so this isn’t a shot at him. My own rating system show ’09 as Favre’s 6th-best season, but subjectively, I’d put it 8th or 9th.

        I also think Plunkett’s best years were in New England, Conerly’s best year was his rookie season, and Simms peaked in the mid-80s. I might or might not quibble with a couple of the others, but the weirdest, by far, in the list above is Tobin Rote. 1963 over 1956? That can’t possibly be right.

        • Richie

          Wow, Plunkett never made a Pro Bowl. I don’t think I would have guessed that.

          Interesting that I think every QB Chase named had a better AV season earlier in his career (except for the guys that played before AV is calculated).

          • Plunkett was not a very good regular season QB.

            • Paul Zimmerman in 1984: “One of the sad things about the draft system is the way it throws the best young quarterbacks onto the worst teams, which often rush them into combat before they’re ready and put them behind inferior lines … Plunkett? He became a physical wreck in New England, quarterbacking losing teams for each of his five years there. His career was rescued by the Raiders’ Al Davis, but if Al would have gotten him early, before those shoulder operations, he might have set records.”

        • Agreed on Cunningham.

          For Favre, I think it’s close. Unadjusting for era, ’09 stands out as his best season. Once you adjust for era, ’95, ’96, ’97, ’01, and ’07 all come close, and one could make the argument for those years. But Favre ranked 3rd in NY/A that year, and had just 7 INTs and 2 fumbles — his turnover numbers were much worse in every other season, and he never ranked higher than 2nd in NY/A, either. I’m not all that interested in the point, but I think it’s reasonable if one wants to conclude that statistically ’09 was his best year.

          Plunkett’s NE years may be underrated, but I don’t think even Jim Plunkett would say his best years were then. Conerly was great as a rookie, but his ’59 season was special. Simms may have peaked in the mid-’80s, but he got his sack rate down by the end of his career. Combined with a great INT rate in ’90, that drove his career-best ANY/A to be in ’90.

          As for Rote, the only argument I see for ’56 as clearly better than ’63 is a sizable AFL adjustment (which, perhaps, is appropriate).

          • I don’t think either of us really wants to spend a lot of effort debating Favre’s ’09, but you can read some of my arguments via this link and the week before if you’re interested. 2009 was after the illegal contact provision, defense receiver rules, and the Tom Brady rule. Favre ranked 9th in passing yards, had one of the highest sack rates of his career, and didn’t rush at all. Your own data shows Favre as the 7th-best QB of ’09. I can’t imagine you want to argue that a year in which he was the 7th-best statistical QB (and probably overrated by the stats) was his best season.

            Do you really have Rote’s ’63 ahead of ’56? I was sure that was an oversight. I think a sizeable AFL adjustment is appropriate, but unnecessary. In 1956, Rote produced 29 TDs; the next-highest total was Lamar McHan’s 15, who had half as many yards as Rote. Rote accounted for 2,424 yards; the next-highest total was Bobby Layne’s 2,034, but Layne had more interceptions and a lower passer rating (and half as many touchdowns). Rote dominated the league in ’56. In ’63, he was pretty good — but just pretty good.

            I’m sure you’re right about Plunkett. If we omit postseason performance, though, I think he really was better with the Patriots. Statistically, and certainly in the context of the team.

            • On Favre, I just re-checked my numbers from this post, and it actually is even more ’09-friendly than I thought:

              http://www.footballperspective.com/the-greatest-qb-of-all-time-v-part-i-methodology/

              The fumble value is huge, but my #s say Favre had a harder SOS in ’09 than in ’95. And yes, in ’09 Favre ranked 7th, but the reason for that is ’95 and ’96 were just down years for QBs. Favre’s Relative ANY/A was higher in ’09 and that ignores the fumbles issue. I assume this means the variance in QBs was much wider in ’09, and perhaps that’s reason enough to argue for Favre ’95 or Favre ’96 — but I think reasonable minds can differ.

              I don’t “have” anything on Rote. I just checked his PFR page and saw his advanced passing numbers were better in ’63 than ’56. His Y/A was 7.2 in ’56 and 8.8 in ’63. His TD/INT numbers were similar enough, so that drives most of the issue here. His Y/C was basically the same both years, too. What really changed was Rote went from completing 47.4% of his passes to 59.4%.

              However, I hadn’t checked the rushing numbers until just now, so yeah, 11 TDs perhaps changes things 🙂 The ’56 Packers were terrible on defense and so Rote went just 4-7; given that he went 11-3 and won the AFL title (and played well in that game), I guess one could still make the argument for ’63, but yeah not all that exciting of a debate.

            • sacramento gold miners

              Agree about Plunkett being better physically, and he was showing promise with New England. In those days, he was more mobile. The problem was that he was viewed as the savior, and when you add struggle with injury, Plunkett wasn’t mentally tough enough to ride out the storm. Indeed, it was Steve Grogan who was able to lead an improving Pats team to the playoffs in ’76. Don’t think Plunkett could have handled
              the playoffs at that point in his career.

              Plunkett floundered even more in San Francisco before resurfacing in Oakland. Older, wiser, and without the burden of high expectations, Plunkett came back. I do think there is a connection between the more experienced Plunkett being able to excel in the postseason with Oakland, as opposed to the younger, less confident QB in New England. Of course, Plunkett still had issues with consistency during the regular season, but did enough to get the Raiders into the playoffs. What he lost in mobility seemed to be made up in reacting better to adversity.

              As others have mentioned here, other QBs are capability of playing at a high level deep into their 30s.

        • Andrew Healy

          Cunningham indeed might have had the best receiver support in NFL history in Minnesota. Those same receivers made Jeff George #3 in DVOA the next year. They made Daunte Culpepper #4, I think, the following year in Carter’s last real season.

          But still. We’re putting ’90 above ’98 for Cunningham? He never topped 6.0 ANY/A except for ’98, and that year he had 8.54. He also took tons of sacks in Philly and not in ’98. We have to give him some credit for an all-time great offense. Even if we could do the correct teammate adjustments to compare PHI vs. MIN, I have to think ’98 wins.

  • sacramento gold miners

    The other aspect of the CFL is how different the game is, and U.S. college stars, and NFL vets don’t dominate the way some might perceive. This won’t happen again, but in the early 1960s, NFL teams played CFL teams in a number of competitions. I think in the games played at CFL cities they went by Canadian rules, and the games played in the U.S. were played by NFL rules.

    The CFL kicks off another season next week. Michael Sam signed with Montreal, but quit during training camp.

  • Richie

    “Flutie went 8-5 (.615) as New England’s starter, compared to 14-20 (.412) for the other QBs from 1987-89.”

    Reminds me of Tim Tebow. There wasn’t nearly as much football talk to pay attention to in 1989, and I was only 17. But I don’t remember any talk about anybody having any hope for Flutie becoming anything. Makes you wonder if Tebow went to the CFL if maybe he could thrive.

  • Adam Steele

    Brad, would you vote Flutie into the HoF?

    • Yes, I would. But I don’t feel strongly about it.

  • Will Durham

    Flutie’s never gotten much credit, in large part because the masses never pay attention to the backstories, coupled with his association with that one pass and because of his height. Most QBs of the old days needed a number of years to mature, and he was one of them, not ready in his first few NFL years then like other NFL vets such as Moon and Theismann, was afforded the chance to get needed reps in Canada, which has always been a more accepting league and society.

    In following the Buffalo situation, it was clear to me that he was prevented from getting a full shot because of the coach’s concern with getting the “younger, better” QB more reps whenever possible. Thus, Flutie’s impact was mitigated over what might have been, which is a shame. He didn’t get many nationally televised opportunities to show what he’d become once back in the NFL, before his window closed. Most still don’t know or appreciate what he’d become, though of course as a Canadian following both leagues I smiled in the knowledge that Belichick understood and IMO, honored the Canadian connection with that drop kick close to the end of his time in NE.

  • sn0mm1s

    Wasn’t joking when I said no argument was going to convince me to place Flutie high on an all-time QB list.

    Everyone is so enamored with his 1 good season. He essentially started 12 games that year (officially 10) as he took 20 and 28 pass attempts in two games considered non-starts. If you take his best season ever, say he started 12 games, and then take those average yards and passing TDs and apply them to *every game he ever appeared in the NFL* he is around 100th all time in passing yards and 80th in passing TDs. Seriously, if I do the same thing with say Corey Dillon (basing his prior years on his career year at age 30 on the Pats) or on Riggins (his age 34 season on the Skins), or Gannon’s age 37 season, or Favre’s age 40 season with the Vikes the numbers get ridiculous and *nothing* like what actually happened. This is like a “what if Bo Jackson never got injured or played baseball” in reverse. Flutie caught lightning in bottle 1 season in the NFL and was never able to replicate it in past or future seasons.

    • Richie

      Riggins and Favre still had HOF careers, even if those late-career seasons may have been outliers. Corey Dillon had a borderline-HOF career. Gannon is a little comparable to Flutie in that he just didn’t play a ton in his prime years.

      Now you said “high on an all time QB list’, so I don’t know what the definition of that is. But I don’t think it’s crazy to think that Flutie could have had a career as good as Boomer Esiason or Steve McNair, had he gotten to spend his full career in the NFL.

    • I appreciate your admission that your mind is closed on this subject. True to word, you’ve done a remarkable job of ignoring almost everything I wrote. We disagree, and I’m not especially bothered by that; I’ve used the second person below because it’s convenient, not because I’m attempting to continue this particular conversation. But simply in the service of rebutting the argument…

      You’re still talking about Flutie’s NFL seasons, you assume that he peaked at age 36, and you ignore rushing, sack avoidance, and fumble avoidance, which were among his greatest strengths. In applying ’98 to Flutie’s NFL career, you’ve omitted almost every year he was a full-time starter, and some of his greatest assets. It’s a woefully incomplete picture of his career.

      You also understate Flutie’s success from 1999-2003; it wasn’t just one good season, or 11½ good games. Among the 16 quarterbacks who attempted at least 1,000 passes from 1998-2000, Flutie ranks 2nd in ANY/A, behind only Peyton Manning — and again, that doesn’t credit Flutie’s rushing (27 yds/GS, 425/16 gms) or his low fumble rate. Buffalo’s success with and without Flutie is striking even beyond ’98 — look at the team’s record when he was in/out of the lineup. Flutie’s continued success near the end of his career — he was above-average with San Diego in ’01 and ’03 — also implies a player who was awfully good a decade previous.

      You’re unwilling to consider that Flutie might have been one of the best QBs in the world while he was in the CFL. That’s your privilege, and I’m not interested in arguing with someone whose mind is closed on the matter, but I think most of us feel that we can’t judge a player’s greatness without considering his age 28-35 seasons.

      For those who are interested in changing my mind: discredit one of the three bullet points near the end of the article. If any of those fall, my argument suddenly becomes substantially weaker. Leave them standing, and I believe Flutie was a great player.

  • Rob Harrison

    I wonder–in all seriousness–if part of the reason Flutie isn’t taken seriously is because he’s named “Doug Flutie.” It sounds cutesy and diminutive, and reinforces the perception of the man as diminutive and–in an NFL context–“cute.” Much like Marion Michael Morrison choosing the screen name “John Wayne,” I wonder if Flutie would have been taken a bit more seriously if he’d renamed himself “Jim Brown” or “Jack Tatum.”

  • Matt

    I’ve got a little more background info on Flutie’s CFL years. The offenses in the early 90’s CFL went crazy and put up numbers that haven’t been seen since. Season attempts, completions, yardage and touchdowns records were set that still stand today. There was also expansion into the USA, with one team in 1993, 3 in 1994 and 2 more in 1995. Yet, they all folded by 1996. There was a talent imbalance because Canadian teams were required to keep a large percentage of Canadian born players on their rosters and the US teams did not have these restrictions. Flutie liked running the empty backfield offense with 6 wrs in the pattern most of the time. This offense and the wider field made for huge running lanes as well. While he only won one Grey Cup with Calgary, they continued to find quality QBs with Jeff Garcia replacing Flutie. Garcia was replaced by Dave Dickenson, who spent 2 years as a number 3 QB with several NFL teams. They also had Henry Burris on the roster in 1997 who played with the Bears in 2002 and continues to play in the CFL, He is now with Ottawa.

    I also wanted to compare Flutie’s stats with CFL QB’s who also had some significant NFL experience.

    In 1993:
    Flutie had 416 comps. on 713 attempts for 6092 yards with 44 TDs and 17 ints. He rushed for 373 yards with 11 tds

    David Archer played for the expansion Sacramento team that year, which was his first CFL season (and easily his best).
    Archer had 403 comps. on 701 attempts for 6023 yards with 35 TDs and 23 ints. He rushed for 287 yards and 2 tds.

    In 1996:
    Flutie had 434 comps. on 677 attempts for 5720 yards with 29 TDs and 17 ints. He rushed for 677 yards and 9 TDs.
    Garcia had 315 comps. on 537 attempts for 4225 yards with 25 TDs and 16 ints. He rushed for 657 yards and 6 TDs.

    In 1997:
    Flute had 430 comps on 673 attempts for 5505 yards with 47 TDs and 24 ints. He rushed for 542 yards and 5 TDs.
    Garcia had 354 comps on 566 attempts for 4573 yards with 33 TDs and 14 ints. He rushed for 727 yards and 7 TDs.

    Note: rushing TDs can almost be automatic in the CFL from the 1 yard line since the defense has to line up 1 yard off of the line of scrimmage.

    Also if Tim Tebow ever went to the CFL, he would probably be bigger then 10 of the 12 players on defense. The CFL is a speed league with safety type bodies playing outside linebacker and outside linebacker bodies playing defensive end.

  • Dave Keller

    Your analysis of Doug Flutie is 100 percent accurate.

  • Christopher Rehman

    To further the discussion, in http://www.footballperspective.com/russell-wilson-and-other-quarterbacks-through-48-starts/ there are scatterplots for the first 48 games of a QBs NFL career. For Doug Flutie, those 48 are spread almost evenly between his pre- and post-CFL NFL stints (and his ‘newbie’ and ‘veteren’ ages, missing his ‘prime’ years). In those games, he was involved in about 66% of his teams’ offense and had above a 67% win percentage. He is quite comparable to John Elway in those plots. The only QBs starting since 2000 to beat him in both categories are Tom Brady and Russell Wilson; beat him on offence but tied in wins: Tony Romo and Andrew Luck; beat him on wins but not offense: Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger. From 87 to 99, only Kurt Warner beat him on both, and while Favre, Peyton Manning, McNabb, Bledsoe and others had better offense, they had 2-9 fewer wins. And in his generation, only Dan Marino beat him on both counts. In the prior generation, no-one beat him on both counts, only Namath on offense. In all eras, only 15 of 159 QBs earned more wins, and 6 tied him; 50-55 were responsible for more offense, and only 5 beat him on both. He was a .500+ winner before he left and after he returned. His CFL play suggests that he would likely have been a game or two over five hundred on average if he were in the NFL. He is thus perhaps on the edge of HOF consideration, but definitely not merely a ‘good’ QB but in a higher tier.