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We were all lucky to have caught this act

Retiring New England Patriots backup quarterback Doug Flutie spoke during his afternoon press conference.
Retiring New England Patriots backup quarterback Doug Flutie spoke during his afternoon press conference. (Globe Staff Photo / Jonathan Wiggs)

FOXBOROUGH -- Russell, Williams, Orr, Bird, Cousy, Bourque, Flutie, Havlicek, Schmidt, Brady, Yastrzemski, Marciano. They're all at the highest level of Boston athletic celebrity.

(Did he say ''Flutie"?)

That's correct. No list of inner-sanctum Boston athletic greats would be complete without the name of Doug Flutie, who yesterday became the first such luminary to announce his retirement while quoting Lynyrd Skynyrd ''Lucky Man."

I'd like to thank you for the times that you have been with me I hope it meant as much to you to share these memories There's a guiding light that always seems to shine on me If I did it again I'd be happy 'til the end

''That's exactly how I feel," said Flutie. ''Every word of it."

Doug's 43? Nah. Can't be. Won't be.

''I'm just a big kid," he laughed, as if we didn't know.

But he really is two score plus three, and last year wasn't a big yuckfest for him. That mortality business, you know.

''I had two knee scopes, and there were good days and bad days," he revealed. ''There were times when I said, 'Gee, I hope I don't have to play this week.' "

Doug Flutie afraid to play? Unthinkable. But he didn't want to go out there if he couldn't be, you know, Doug Flutie.

That's why he's spurning multiple offers to return north of the border, where, as an almost buoyant Coach Bill reminded us, ''He is more than legendary."

''I wasn't sure I could play an 18-game schedule and playoffs the way I want to," Flutie explained. ''You look at my years there. I always rushed for five or six hundred yards a year."

And yet . . .

''I needed about 20 people to talk me out of it," he said.

No one -- let me make this clear: NO ONE -- likes playing whatever it is you want to play more than Doug Flutie. In a world of doers, the 5-foot-9 7/8-inch Flutie (his own official measurement) has been the Competitor's Competitor. ''In 21 years, I've had more fun and enjoyment than anyone," he maintained. ''It's still a game to me." As opposed to a business, he means. And, unlike most others, he really does believe it.

Doug Flutie is not through playing. He's just through playing football and getting paid for it. What do you think he's going to do now?

''I promised my brothers I'll be playing in a men's baseball league," he revealed.

Touch football, basketball, and probably even hockey are sure to follow.

How good an athlete was Doug Flutie? The football you know. The rest, to you, may be anecdotal. But suffice it to say that I once asked Boston College basketball coach Gary Williams if Flutie, whom he had seen in many a pickup game, could have played for him. ''He'd be in my rotation," Williams declared. ''He'd back up [future NBA All-Star] Michael Adams." These were perennial NCAA Tournament teams we're talking about.

He was not an all-time great NFL quarterback. In the right context, he could be very effective, but too often (Raymond Berry, Mike Ditka) he was not in the right context. But he was good enough in the No Fun League to be a Pro Bowl invitee in 1998.

The Canadian Football League and Doug were muy simpatico. He was about as good as it got up there, picking up six Most Outstanding Player awards in eight seasons while winning three Grey Cup titles and MVPs. The field was bigger, the rules were different, and the athletes were not quite the same caliber. But that wasn't all.

''I had more fun in Canada," he said. ''I called my own plays. I knew what I could do and couldn't do, and I called plays that were easy for me."

Down here, of course, you get your plays sent to you from a dour offensive coordinator through the wire in your helmet. What fun is that?

''If radios went down in the helmets," Flutie said, ''there would be a mess out there right now. There are [hand] signals, but that would definitely handcuff an offense."

But had Doug Flutie never played a down of professional football, he would have been a Boston icon. For he was a college athlete here like no other. The years from 1981-84 were a magical time in Boston sports, and a transforming time for Boston College, a school still feeling the positive effects of Flutie's mystical presence. Doug Flutie presided over BC's first three bowl appearances in more than two decades, got the Eagles off the campus and down to Foxboro Stadium, where they defeated the likes of Penn State and Alabama, and won the 1984 Heisman Trophy.

Doug Flutie's value to the university itself was immeasurable. At last, people from Poughkeepsie to Pocatello learned the difference between BC and BU. He was a walking advertisement, bringing attention and glory to the school, whose applications shot up dramatically and have remained at a phenomenal level ever since. Conte Forum is The House That Flutie Built. The expanded football stadium is The House That Flutie Built, Part II. But it transcends all that.

Here's the legacy: Doug Flutie did more general good for Boston College than anyone in the last 50 years, and if someone disputes that, he or she simply wasn't paying attention.

He was out of sight and out of mind last year, and then came the dropkick. The dropkick against Miami on New Year's Day had many consequences, the most amazing of which was revealed yesterday. Thanks to Doug Flutie, Bill Belichick, not once, not twice but at least seven or eight times in the span of a minute used a word that most observers would have wagered was unknown to him. It's a mortal lock that no one in the room had ever before heard it emitted from his lips.

''In the 31 years I've coached in the NFL," said Coach Bill, ''we've put in a lot of trick plays." (and then he went on to name some) ''But I don't think there's ever been a trick play we've had so much fun with. That's the play I had the most fun with in my whole career."

Coach Bill may have caught on late, but in these here parts we always knew. Watching Doug Flutie was fun. Always.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is

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