FOXBOROUGH -- It's where Flutie Flakes were born and the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation was formed. It's where Doug Flutie got his chance to return to the NFL.
So when Flutie talks about returning to Buffalo, as he will tomorrow as New England's backup quarterback when the Patriots face the Bills, he does so with a fondness and appreciation of a place where his NFL career was reborn for eight years and counting.
''I definitely enjoyed my time there," Flutie said. ''Coming back from the CFL I came to Buffalo and we had a really good football team. Actually, if I didn't come back to the NFL I was going to retire at that point. We'd won back-to-back championships in the CFL. I was 35 years old, thought it was time to retire, and then . . . there wasn't a lot of talking me into it, but when the opportunity came I said, 'OK, I'll play two years.' "
Flutie was the Bills' starting quarterback in 1998 and '99, and in 2000 he started five of the 11 games he played. After being released by the Bills in March 2001, he signed with the Chargers, and started for San Diego that season, before being relegated to backup status for three years. He joined the Patriots as Tom Brady's backup this season and except for a seven-pass outing against the Colts Nov. 7 in a mop-up role, Flutie has been content to remain on the bench.
''There was great fan support up there [in Buffalo] and it was a fun place to play," Flutie recalled. ''I started the foundation for my son in Buffalo. We had done the Flutie Flakes for about six months before the season even started. We decided to put the Flutie Flakes proceeds toward the foundation. I started playing up there and the timing was just total coincidence. Everything kind of fell into place for us.
''We raised about $1 million for the foundation. We sold over 2 million boxes of cereal. It was like a million in a short period of time. I remember hearing 1 million and then 2 million, but I don't know what the final number was."
There were hard-fought games against the Patriots, including one in which Flutie felt the Bills were robbed of a win at Foxboro Stadium. It was Nov. 29, 1998, and the Bills led, 21-17, with 11 seconds remaining only to watch in frustration as the Patriots pulled out a 25-21 victory. First, Drew Bledsoe, playing with a pin sticking out of his right index finger, connected with Shawn Jefferson on a controversial fourth-and-9 play. Then, with six seconds left, Bledose's end-zone pass from the 26 fell incomplete as time ran out, but a defensive pass interference penalty was called, and on the final play of the game, Bledsoe hit Ben Coates with a 1-yard TD pass.
Flutie and the Bills argued that Jefferson was out of bounds when he caught the ball. It put a damper on one of Flutie's best days as an NFL quarterback, as he passed for 339 yards and two touchdowns, including a spectacular 84-yarder to Eric Moulds, who caught the ball, which was thrown behind him, with one arm and was off to the races. It also ended a 10-game unbeaten streak for Flutie in Foxborough.
Moulds was certainly a Flutie favorite, and when asked about the receiver being suspended for tomorrow's game after apparently getting into an argument with an assistant coach during last week's loss to Miami, Flutie said, ''I'm not going to comment on that situation. I think the world of Eric Moulds."
Flutie also had his on-field battles with Bill Belichick, when Belichick was the Jets' defensive coordinator. Flutie was asked how Belichick defensed him, but the 43-year-old was too smart to take the bait. ''I remember [what he did]," said Flutie. ''He might try to do it again against someone else so I don't want to give it away."
''It kind of went back and forth," said Belichick of the Jets' success against Flutie. ''We had a couple of days that were good days and we had a couple that weren't so good. What was it, the Sunday night game up there? He killed us that day. He killed us. He had a couple of big scrambles and hit a couple of long balls [in a 17-3 Bills win Sept. 19, 1999, that was Flutie's lone win against Belichick's Jets]. I remember that one."
Belichick remembered Flutie being tough to handle in spread formations.
''It was a huge problem because they started spreading them out, throwing deep balls, and those are two things that Doug does very well," Belichick said. ''He throws a very accurate long ball. You think you're going to get up there and blitz him and press the receivers and all of that, and he drops it in the bucket 40 yards down the field to [Eric] Moulds or Andre Reed or whoever it was. It was a problem."
Those starting days seem like a long time ago to Flutie. He was able to come home this season and be a backup to Brady, which he says he's enjoyed thoroughly.
''Physically, I feel great, but it does wear on you," said Flutie of the seasons late in his career and how much longer he'll continue to play. ''The routine and the intensity . . . but it's been a good year from that standpoint. I make those decisions in the offseason. Usually I say two more years. Now, the last couple of years I've been saying one more year. It's coming to that point."
He says with a smile that it's all right that he hasn't played a lot because ''that means No. 12 is healthy, and that's what we want here. Everybody loves being on the field and playing and contributing. As long as I feel as though I'm contributing in some respect, I'm content. I feel like I'm doing that here."
He led the Bills to a pair of second-place finishes and AFC wild-card playoff losses in 1998 and '99. And while those were disappointing, Flutie chooses to remember the good times that he had in Buffalo, where his second NFL career began.