Flutie passes on return Heisman winner finishes up with Patriots

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – Doug Flutie never lost his passion for playing despite being labeled too short and too much of a scrambler. Now, after 21 years as a pro, he’s leaving the football field – and maybe even his critics – behind.

The local hero who won the Heisman Trophy, worked for Donald Trump and made the NFL’s first drop kick in 64 years, announced his retirement Monday after spending his final season as backup quarterback for the New England Patriots. “To finish it up by getting back here was very special,” Flutie said. “There isn’t a single time when I’ll look back and say I wasn’t prepared for that game or I didn’t quite give it all I had. And that, to me, is one of the things I’m most proud of.”

Flutie is 43, but admits he’s “just a big kid” who would enjoy playing football in his backyard in nearby Natick as well as the NFL.

Concern about his knees, which underwent two arthroscopic surgeries in two years, and the weekly “grind” of preparing during the week without the fun of playing games, led him to tell coach Bill Belichick after last season he was considering retirement. Belichick told him to think about it.

Flutie isn’t leaving the game entirely. He will be a college football studio analyst for ABC on Saturdays and will appear on ESPN shows. He also may cover some college football games.

He chuckled about his height – admitting that he was one-eighth of an inch shorter than his listed 5-foot-10 – and even laughed about doubters still questioning his ability.

That ability brought him the 1984 Heisman at Boston College, one Pro Bowl berth and six most outstanding player awards in the Canadian Football League.

“I said to this day when I finally announce my retirement they’ll say, See, I told you he couldn’t do it,’ ” said Flutie, who often smiled during his news conference. “The fans were the ones that were always saying they have no doubt in my abilities.”

There were other believers in the player who threw one of college football’s most famous passes, won three CFL Grey Cup championships and passed for 14,715 yards and 86 touchdowns in 12 NFL seasons. But he played only 15 games in his last four seasons.

“Here’s a young man who loves the game, who always entertained us,” diminutive Patriots owner Robert Kraft said at the news conference at Gillette Stadium. “Like some of us, he was vertically challenged and he never let it slow him down.”

Kraft presented a check from his family for $22,000 to the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, named for Flutie’s son, who is autistic.

The way Flutie “has taken over this region as an athlete,” Belichick said, “has been remarkable just (as) we’ve seen him take over a football game.”

The usually serious coach even let Flutie try a drop kick after a touchdown late in the regular-season finale against the Miami Dolphins. He made the extra point, leaped and was hugged by a smiling Belichick.

That “put the fun back in the game” in a season in which he threw just 10 passes in five games, Flutie said.

His most memorable college play came on Nov. 23, 1984, when he threw a 48-yard desperation touchdown heave to Gerard Phelan on the last play to upset Miami 47-45.

Flutie played the next season for the USFL’s New Jersey Generals, owned by Trump, then spent two seasons with the Chicago Bears and three with New England before starting his eight-year CFL career with British Columbia in 1990.

His success in Canada, where he called his own plays, restored his confidence, “which allowed me to come back to Buffalo and step on the field (and) in my first year, make it to a Pro Bowl,” Flutie said.

“I could not figure out why he was in the CFL, because I thought he really had the talent to play in” the NFL, said San Diego general manager A.J. Smith, who, while director of pro personnel in Buffalo, recommended the Bills bring Flutie from the CFL. “I just thought he was just a terrific player, an exception to the rule.”

Flutie started 30 games in three seasons with Buffalo and 16 in his first of four years with San Diego. But in the next three with the Chargers and one with New England, he started just six times.

Flutie’s departure leaves Matt Cassel, a seventh-round draft pick last year, as the Patriots’ only returning quarterback, although they could add a veteran to be Tom Brady’s primary backup.

“I’m doing everything I can to put myself in a position to hopefully fulfill that role,” Cassel said Monday, adding Flutie “has got a childish charisma about him in which he comes out every day with a great attitude.”

Long hours of preparation and not calling plays like he did in Canada had taken some fun out of the game, and Flutie nearly retired after his last season in the CFL in 1997, but was tempted to return to Canada this year.

“I’ve had to have about 20 people talk me out of that,” he said. He had calls from about six teams in three leagues, and from three networks.

But Flutie wasn’t sure how his knees would hold up. There were times last season when he curtailed midweek workouts so he would be ready for games.

Now he’ll have extra time to play in a baseball league, watch his daughter’s dance recitals and be more involved with his foundation.

“It’s just been a fun run for me,” Flutie said. “It’s given me the great thrills. It’s not a right to play professional football. It’s a privilege, and especially in the NFL.”

AP-ES-05-15-06 1952EDT

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