Flutiemania has taken over Buffalo.
Doug Flutie jerseys are leaving stores as quickly as they arrive, boxes of his new cereal, Flutie Flakes, are being grabbed off supermarket shelves and every Bills fan, it seems, is gaga over the quarterback. Even teammates admit they're in awe of the "little guy."
Since the 5-foot-10 (with shoes) Flutie replaced injured Rob Johnson, the Bills have turned their season around.
"I tell people to invest money in Flutie Flakes because the stock's rising," teammate Marcellus Wiley said. "The guy is exciting, a leader and a winner."
The 36-year-old signal-caller has led Buffalo (4-3) to three victories, the biggest coming on his last-second touchdown run that ended Jacksonville's hopes of an undefeated season.
Things have looked easy for Flutie the past three Sundays, but they weren't always that way, and still aren't quite so simple.
Much has happened since Flutie was on top of the world 14 years ago after winning the Heisman Trophy and throwing the last-second desperation pass that defeated Miami.
He was an 11th-round draft pick of the Rams out of Boston College, but chose to try the USFL instead. The league folded and Flutie bounced around the NFL for a few years before realizing he wasn't wanted. Flutie packed his bags for the Canadan Football League.
"It was the only option I had at the time," Flutie said. "They didn't want me down here. No one was willing to take a chance. ... It really irritated me back then."
He dominated in the CFL, winning six MVP Awards and three league championships. Flutie even played one season in Calgary basically for free after the team went bankrupt.
"They still owe me close to $900,000 and I'll never see that," Flutie said. "I had elbow surgery and came back early to play in the playoffs knowing I wasn't getting paid."
If the money wasn't important enough to keep Flutie off the field back then, it certainly isn't now. His love for the game is rivaled only by the love for his family.
His 6-year-old son, Doug Jr., is autistic, can only speak a few words and requires care every minute of the day. Even the simplest of tasks are difficult.
"He can't dress himself, can't brush his hair or his teeth and is going to be totally dependent on me and my wife," Flutie said. "When you see him making strides, that's much more important than football. I'd definitely trade a lot of my success on the field for him just to be able to say, `Dad'."
He gave half of his $25,000 signing bonus to Hunter's Hope, a foundation established by former Bills quarterback Jim Kelly and his wife, Jill, in the name of their infant son Hunter, who is stricken with Krabbe's disease, a degenerative disorder of the nervous system.
Flutie contemplated retiring to spend more time with his family, but decided instead to give the NFL one more try -- for a Super Bowl ring. Flutie's two-year deal with the Bills will pay him an average of $300,000 plus incentives per season.
He can make as much as $2 million this year, but a more realistic figure is $1 million, sources said. For every three games he plays, he earns an additional $150,000.
Thanks to the injury-prone Johnson, Flutie has played five games and thrown for 881 yards and seven touchdowns. He is second in the AFC with a 102.0 quarterback rating.
Buffalo coach Wade Phillips won't talk about a quarterback controversy because his $25 million man still is unable to play. Teammates, however, don't mind addressing the issue.
"If I'm Wade Phillips, I leave Doug in," Thurman Thomas said. "I just think that's the way to go. ... We're on a hot streak right now, and I think you stick with Flutie."
Most fans agree with Thomas, as shown by the standing ovations Flutie gets at Rich Stadium and support for him on talk shows.
The impact of Flutie's play may be felt for a long time in Buffalo. The team needs to reach an $11 million goal in luxury seat sales by Dec. 1 to guarantee it will remain in the city. Business has picked up since he took over.
"The wins and Doug Flutie are making it happen the right way," said team treasurer Jeffrey C. Littmann. "We've sold about 1,000 seats in the past two weeks."
As he watches fans snatc up whatever tickets and Bills No. 7 jerseys remain, Flutie can only smile. As a veteran, he realizes how quickly it can all change.
"It happened overnight," he said, "but it can all turn around just as quickly."
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