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Doug Flutie still battling to prove he can play in NFL despite lack of size

Football fans have been intrigued by Doug Flutie ever since he won the Heisman Trophy and excited the nation with ``miracle'' passes and last-second victories for Boston College in 1985. Some pro scouts and coaches have been more skeptical, wondering whether a 5 ft., 10 in., 175-pound quarterback is really big enough to go up against the behemoths who populate today's defensive lines. All Flutie wants, of course, is a chance to argue his case on the field - as he did Sunday when he came off the bench and led New England to a last-minute 21-17 victory over Indianapolis. ``I've been hoping for this day to come, and it came!'' said Flutie, reflecting on two years of waiting to come up with a big performance in a National Football League game that really counted. ``Now, I'm glad. I've been saying since Day 1 that I can play.''

Doug gave plenty of evidence of this Sunday. Entering a 7-7 game in the fourth quarter, he whipped a 27-yard touchdown pass to Stanley Morgan on his first series of plays. Then after the Patriots fell behind late in the game, he bootlegged 13 yards for the winning TD with only 13 seconds remaining. Overall, in just one quarter of action, he completed 12 of 16 passes for 132 yards and ran three times for 18 more.

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Flutie's admirers feel this performance should earn him a starting opportunity, but it isn't quite that simple. Doug is one of four quarterbacks on the New England roster - and the last one in terms of longevity with the team and NFL experience.

``I have lots of confidence in Doug, in all my quarterbacks,'' is all coach Raymond Berry has to say in response to the clamor for Flutie to start this coming Sunday when the Patriots (2-3) travel to Milwaukee to take on the winless Green Bay Packers.

``I enjoyed his play,'' Berry adds. ``He showed lots of emotion and confidence in a difficult situation. After all, he had limited practice time. Flutie deserved a 10 for his performance. He sparked us to victory. But the season lasts for 16 games.''

At age 25, Flutie is already a living legend in New England football, but primarily for his college feats. His NFL record so far has been spotty, though in fairness, he has never really had a full opportunity to prove himself.

Doug began his pro career with the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League.

``My year with the Generals was an exciting one,'' he says of that season, in which he threw 13 touchdown passes and shared the spotlight with running back Herschel Walker. ``I had lots of fun,'' he adds, although he missed the final regular season and playoff games because of a late- season injury.

NFL teams, deterred by his size and USFL connection, were in no hurry to draft him. The Patriots kept ignoring him, even in the late rounds, despite his local-hero status, and he was finally taken by the Los Angeles Rams in the 11th round.

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In 1986 the Chicago Bears acquired Flutie's rights from L.A. and signed him as a backup quarterback. Rushed into action after starter Jim McMahon was hurt late in the 1986 season, he helped the Bears to a division title but was ineffective in a playoff loss to Washington, completing only 11 of 31 passes and having two intercepted. His Bear teammates never warmed up to him, but coach Mike Ditka admired him.

Doug began the 1987 campaign in Chicago but was traded to the Patriots early in the season and played for them during the short-lived players' strike, leading the team to a 21-7 victory over Houston in the Astrodome in the final ``replacement game.'' Some players criticized Flutie for being a strikebreaker. He responded:

``What I'm doing is something I still think is not right. But it's a move I feel I had to make. Three years down the road, if I'm still with the New England Patriots, it'll be the best decision I've ever made.''

Veterans Tony Eason and Steve Grogan have traded places as starters for the Patriots in recent seasons, with Tom Ramsey and Flutie in the wings. Eason is currently out with an injury, leaving Grogan as No. 1. The latter hasn't been too effective, though, and he also got banged up a bit a week ago, so Berry decided to rest him Sunday and give Ramsey the starting nod. Then when Ramsey failed to generate much of a spark in his three quarters of action, Flutie got his chance.

``I was more excited than nervous when the coach told me to go in,'' Flutie said. ``This game was my kind of football - throw the ball, and be aggressive.''

And Flutie thrives on daring play. During preseason, when it seemed he wouldn't be getting many opportunities at quarterback, he even took a shot at returning punts. ``Coach Berry felt that this would give me another alternative to get into action,'' he explained.

But Doug does not expect to fill that slot on any regular basis. ``Of course if there's an emergency, I'll play anywhere the team needs me,'' he says. ``My goal, however, is to become a first-string pro quarterback.''

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