USFL alum Flutie among senior statesmen in NFL

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

CARSON, Calif. -- Doug Flutie was talking about his long-ago days in the USFL when he suddenly paused and looked around the San Diego Chargers' locker room.

"Most of these guys don't even remember the USFL," said Flutie, who took his first pro snap with Donald Trump's New Jersey Generals in 1985.

Some of his current teammates were in kindergarten when Flutie threw the "Hail Mary" pass that helped him win the Heisman Trophy in 1984, then signed with the USFL not long after.

Nearly two decades later, Flutie has no intention of slowing down, even though he'll be Drew Brees' backup for a second straight year.

"It's better than the alternative -- not being around," said Flutie, who's entering his 19th pro season and will turn 41 in October.

Flutie and Rams punter Sean Landeta, 41, are the only USFL alums still playing in the NFL.

"I'll bet he can play another five years," Landeta said about Flutie earlier this summer.

Three more years

Actually, Flutie would like to play three more seasons with the Chargers so his daughter can finish high school in La Jolla, the tiny district in San Diego where Flutie lives during the season.

He might just make it, especially since Chargers general manager A.J. Smith is a huge Flutie fan.

"I'm proud of the fact that I'm 40 years old and still feel athletic," Flutie said. "I'm not just here because I'm a backup quarterback. I'm here because I can contribute. I'm proud of that."

The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Flutie always amazes people when he shows up to camp in great shape, and this year was no different when the Chargers reported to the heat and humidity of Carson, an industrial suburb of Los Angeles.

"My basic attitude about it is, if I slow down, then I'll feel old," Flutie said. "Don't let yourself slow down. I have the same routine I had when I was 25. It's a little tougher some days and you feel a little sore some days, but for the most part it's the same."

Flutie's offseason workout routine includes distance running; a few sprint workouts a week with brother Darren, a former pro wide receiver; light weight workouts; and a lot of pickup basketball games.

If he weren't still playing, "I'd be playing the drums, I'd be playing in three basketball leagues, playing in a flag football league on Sunday morning and a hockey league on Sunday night."

Brees was 6 when Flutie turned pro and doesn't remember the USFL. But he's seen video highlights. And he has what he calls a "very comfortable" relationship with Flutie, something Flutie didn't have with Rob Johnson during three tumultuous seasons in Buffalo before Flutie signed with the Chargers.

Brees knows what keeps Flutie going.

"He's always had a lot of people tell him that he wouldn't be able to play for two years, much less 20," Brees said. "I think that drives him somewhat. He loves football, he loves athletics, he loves competition in general. Really, he can do it for as long as he wants."

Flutie played in only one game last year, replacing the ineffective Brees late in a game at Buffalo. Flutie couldn't quite pull off a comeback, though. It was the least amount of playing time he'd had since he was brought back to the NFL -- on the recommendation of Smith, then the Bills' assistant GM -- following an eight-year exile in the CFL.

A backup role

Flutie said being the backup is different, but more relaxing.

"It was more like I stepped back with blinders on and enjoyed it," he said. "But it doesn't mean I don't want to play.

"Preparation is the same. You're still one play away. The biggest challenge is to keep yourself focused and prepared the same as if you were the starter. There's less pressure in that preparation, so for some reason it just seems a little easier to prepare and see the whole picture."

Smith, who became GM when John Butler died of cancer in April, has always been impressed by Flutie's condition, attitude and passion.

"He still can play," Smith said. "His job right now is to hold the fort if there's an injury. That's what you have to have at that position, especially someone who's been around a long time."

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